We intend to use the Etheridge Knight Collection, housed in Butler University’s Special Collections in Irwin Library, to bring community members together with Butler faculty, staff, and undergraduate students. We will use the collection to both celebrate the poetry of Etheridge Knight and to reanimate his goal of creating an inclusive mix of family, readers, writers, and students consistent with Knight’s own outreach, such as the Free People’s Poetry Workshop. Knight’s poetry and his life (as seen in the archives) demonstrated his idea that poetry does not just exist on the page and should not just be one poet speaking to another. A poem, he often said, involves “The Poet, the Poem, and the People,” and poetry does not fully exist until it is spoken within a community and expresses the feelings and ideas of that community.
This project will involve a new generation of undergraduate students in humanities research and will model for students, faculty, and community members alike the enduring value of the humanities for everyone. In response to the recent groundswell of divisive rhetoric, this project will also serve as a model for supporting one of the capacities essential to a healthy community (and a healthy democracy): the ability to empathize with others and thereby to appreciate and learn from commonalities and differences between Self and Other.
Central to our effort will be a creation of a community advisory committee comprised of surviving members of Etheridge Knight’s family, friends and colleagues of Etheridge Knight, representatives from the Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) Center for Black Literature and Culture (CBLC), and select institutional team members and student researchers from Butler. This advisory committee will have oversight of specific project goals and products, as a way to ensure all public products and exhibits align with family wishes and serve Knight’s unmistakable goal of exploring what it means to be a person in the world.