Mari Evans, Voice of Black Arts in Indiana
Mari Evans (1923-2017) was a trailblazer in multiple art forms and a catalyst for social justice. She was at the center of the 1960s Black Arts Movement in the US and published poetry, plays, essays, books, and music (composition and lyrics). Born in Ohio, she moved to Indianapolis as an adult in the late 1940s. She worked in the housing authority during an extremely volatile time, when Black residents were restricted on where they could live at the same time as the Black population there was significantly growing. A detailed account of the climate then can be found here: https://www.newamerica.org/indianapolis/blog/indiana-avenue. She was also a volunteer in the Corrections system.
According to https://www.blackpast.org, in addition to her many years at Indiana University, “Evans has taught at a number of other institutions including Cornell, Northwestern, Washington University in St. Louis, Spelman College, the University of Miami at Coral Gables, and the State University of New York at Albany. But she is best known for her talent in poetry and her work has appeared in more than one hundred anthologies. Most of that work focuses on the celebration of Africa and the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement as well as other themes bringing to light the reality of the African American experience.”
Additionally, https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2017 tells us: “She received an honorary doctorate from Marian College in 1975. She wrote, directed and produced ‘The Black Experience’ for WTTV-4 from 1968-73. And she was even featured on a Ugandan postage stamp.”
She received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the John Hay Whitney Foundation, according to https://www.poetryfoundation.org.
An excellent biography of the writer with numerous references can be found here: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2020/05/19.
Evans is best known for I Am a Black Woman, which is both a poem and the title of her 1970 book. It casts a vivid and artistic spotlight on the plight of Black women. For a list of various works she wrote or composed, click here: https://poets.org/poet/mari-evans.
A 1985 audio recording that includes the writer reading her work is at 35:40 of this link (following an introduction by Gwendolyn Brooks): https://www.loc.gov/item/85755188. (Read more about Gwendolyn Brooks here: Gwendolyn Brooks in Illinois.)
Given the long length of her life, Indianapolis has several places associated with her. She taught about the Black experience through numerous courses at Indiana University, where she had been a Writer-In-Residence. Read details here: https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2020/05/19. She began her Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) teaching career at the Marott Building, where IUPUI offered courses at the time. She attended Broadway United Methodist Church (609 East 29th Street) and, for many years, was a member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (an historic property that sold to a developer in 2016), according to https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2017.
But the easiest place to see the memory of Mari Evans preserved is the enormous downtown mural painted on the side of the Davlan building on Massachusetts Avenue by artist Michael “Alkemi” Jordan. The artist was selected by the writer herself, according to visitindy.com. Photos of the making of the mural can be seen here and are available for purchase from indystar.com: https://www.indystar.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/arts/2016/07.
IUPUI at 420 University Boulevard is the second stop on the map for the Indiana Author Adventures Trail.