VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Asani Charles, of Choctaw, Chickasaw and African descent, launched her debut spoken-word CD, “Word Songs for Grandmas,” July 31 at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Los Angeles during a poetry reading opening for a screening of the Rich Heape Films documentary, “Black Indians: An American Story.”
The event was sponsored by Bringing the Circle Together, which offers a free monthly Native film series. All screenings are open to the public.
Charles chose to perform three pieces for the crowd: “Grease,” “Primary Colors” and “I come out de river,” which is a narrative rendition of a ferry boat sinking on the Choctaw Trail of Tears. She began and ended the poem by singing “Amazing Grace” in Choctaw.
Charles began writing poetry, songs and short stories when she was very young. Instead of the usual fairy tales read to most children her mother read poems by such influential personalities as revolutionary black poet Nikki Giovanni and former poet laureate Rita Dove.
Ultimately, it was the influence of these poets and the influence of multiculturalism as a black and indigenous person that would lead Charles on the path to write, eventually becoming a high school English teacher. She soon thereafter created “Word Songs.”
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Charles refers to her prose style as “eclectically narrative.” an immediate sense of conviction flows out of a small but powerful voice on some pieces of “Word Songs.” She doesn’t hold back from using real language to include racial epithets that have been the discourse of so many.
Of particular interest is her ability to combine the cultures of her upbringing as an American Indian and black woman. Her spoken songs contain references to black culture with traditional Native music in the background. It is a complete package that works well. Charles does a great job of conveying a strong and captivating message.
Her poetry itself has appeared in numerous publications, including “Ahani: Indigenous American Poetry,” “Yellow Medicine Review” and “I was Indian,” edited by Susan DeerCloud. Darrell Blackbear Sr., of the Bear Claw Singers, collaborated with Charles on some of the selections of “Word Songs.” Charles indicated working on the selection “poetry over pow wow” as a moving and natural experience.
“Word Songs” also contains the selection “Four Pushups,” which begins with traditional Native music and talks about Charles’ experiences when dancing at pow wows. The song travels to the past and returns to the present in the course of only a few words spoken by Charles. Other selections include “Shawl Woman” and “Indin Souljer Boy,” which are equally as captivating.
Charles, in addition to her teaching and poetry, is an active participant in the Native community. She has also served as an advocate for urban Indian education for more than 10 years. She has worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District and served with the board of directors of Prayer House Outreach 2000, an American Indian ministry program in Long Beach.
Charles is currently a teacher representative for the Dallas Independent School District Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee. She is a strong advocate for diversity awareness and multicultural education. She developed an American Indian history curriculum for elementary grades. She is a lecturer on urban Indian education and assists local elementary, middle and high school teachers with American Indian topics and literature.
According to Charles, when she is not teaching or writing, she tries to save her weekends for dancing Southern Women’s Cloth at pow wows. She has competed at the Gathering of Nations Powwow, describing it as “vividly spectacular and a humbling experience.” Charles dreams of buying an RV and traveling the pow wow trail from coast to coast with her husband and three children.
For more information on the film series, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mypsace.com/nafilm series. For more on Asani Charles, visit www.myspace.com/asanicharles; to purchase a CD, e-mail email@example.com or visit her MySpace page.