Dr. Rashidah Ismaili AbuBakr is a writer of short stories, plays and poetry. She is widely anthologized and has four collections of poems. Her plays have been performed internationally as well as national. Ms. Ismaili has read her poetry solo and with musical instrumentation. She has been a writer in residence at many colleges and art centers in the country. Originally from West Africa, Dr. AbuBakr has taught French and English Speaking African Writers, Literature of the African Diaspora and has taught the Harlem Renaissance and Negritude literary movements. She was a part of the Black Arts Movement of the 60's in New York where she resides. She is an art and culture critic and has published essays on Langston Hughes and Mariama Ba. Her home, Salon d'Afrique is a meeting place of art and culture. While focusing on African heritage her range is inclusive of other peoples and their art.
While in college in New York City, she discovered the dance studio of Syvila Fort, a Katherine Dunham dancer and leading teacher of the technique of Dr. Dunham. Here she met the young dancers, singers and actors who came to learn movement and dance. This experience has led her to have a life long appreciation for African based dance in particular and the art form in general. In 2001 she helped organize a two-day celebration of panels, workshops and presentations of today's leading dancers and choreographers at the American Museum of Natural History.
Her Every-Last-Wednesday luncheons are opened to all at which the likes of dance historian, Joe Nash, original Katherine Dunham student and later dancer in her company, Walter Nicks; Eleo Pomare, Sylvia Water, brilliant young dancer of Haitian descent, Gelan Lambert, first major African American male model and actor, Renauld White and many representatives of the arts community, Eric Alugas, the Ghanaian painter, Tafa. Salons with Cleo Parker Dance Co. Somali author Nuruddin Farah, Nigerian medical doctor and photographer, Dr. A. Olusegun Fayemi, as well as Asian and European cultural workers have furthered the communication with the artistic and intellectual community of Harlem. These are some of the many events she has been able to do since retiring from academia where she was a lecturer, a counselor and administrator. Recently, she left Pratt Institute after fifteen years as Associate Director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Now, after retirement of thirty-two years in higher education, she writes full time and conducts workshops, writing seminars, and lectures.
She also runs a small gallery in her apartment, Galleria Africa. Here she has focused on younger artists of Africa primarily and the African Diaspora in general. Her knowledge of art and markets has been instrumental in bringing to the attention new voices and visions to the art scene in New York.
In October 2001, she organized a reading at Columbia University, 'PEACE WITH HONOUR'. Poets and musicians from a wide and diverse ethnic, racial, gender and religious background came and participated. Journalists/Activists from radio and print media gave their perspective on the crisis. It was hosted by the Study for Racial and Ethnic Studies Department. She also read in an international forum of artists protesting war as a solution to international problems with the esteemed Grace Paley, Martin Espada and others.
In December 2001 Dr. Ismaili-AbuBakr was asked to read her narrative poem, SHAMING OF AN OLIVE TREE, published in Black Renaissance, a publication of New York University, by the Comparative Literature Department under the organization of Dr. K. Brathwate and the Africana Studies Department.
Among many readings during 2002, Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr read at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival. In June 2002, she conducted seminars in Dance History on African-based dance focusing on the Katherine Dunham method and technique. This was a two-week intensive training institute at Jacob's Pillow for Dance organized by Reginald Yates. Dr. Dunham was present and conducted classes. The seminars were a part of the Cultural Traditions and a celebration of Dr. Dunham's ninety-third birthday.
She participated in a writing project with City Lore and at the Bowery Poetry Caf'. This involved high school and college students from Muslim cultures using their heritage as first generation and immigrant experiences as sources of their creative process. In August 2002, she was invited and participated in the African Arts Festival in Den Hague, Nederland.
Artist and filmmaker Ray Grist is did a short film on her work. It features poems from a collection, 'Music Magic.' The poems are being considered for Fall 2006 publication. The film is slated for late Fall 2005.
Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr was selected to participate in a Ford Foundation sponsored series; 'Poets and Writers of Africa and the Diaspora.' She was a Writer-in-Residence for the Fall Semester, 2003 at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr was awarded a travel/lecture series in the Nederland Antilles, Curacao, January 2004.
In February 2004 Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr was a Visiting Scholar/Artist at The University of Ghana, Legon campus Ghana, West Africa. She conducted two Graduate Seminars on Diaspora Literature with an emphasis on James Baldwin. At the commemorative celebration for the late Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, she lectured at the DuBois Pan African Peace Centre. Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr was on radio speaking about the significance of James Baldwin and his work. She lectured to the National Ghana Dance Ensemble, the Ghanaian Women Writers and read poetry at many venues.
In June 2004, Dr. Ismaili AbuBakr participated in the first Writers Conference at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA. She is a faculty member of their new online Masters in Creative Writing Program and participated in the development of the curricula and serves as a core faculty/mentor.
October 2004, Dr. Ismaili-AbuBakr helped plan and participated in the second (OWWA) Organization of Women Writers of Africa's 'Yari-Yari' conference. This one was titled 'Yari-Yari Pamberi'. It was held at New York University and the Schomburg Centre of Black Culture and Research. Dr. Ismaili-AbuBakr is one of the founding members of OWWA. In November, she participated in a celebration of the life of James Baldwin at her former university, Rutgers University, Newark Campus where she'd previously taught in the Black Studies Department for over eighteen years.
In February 2005, an opera based on a collection of her poetry, 'Elegies for the Fallen' with a score by composer Joyce Solomon-Moorman was performed with orchestra at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. It deals with the Soweto Uprising during the latter part of Apartheid.
Currently she is completing a second collection of short stories and working on an historical novel and a play. Her play, 'Rice Keepers' just out, 2006, was presented in a staged reading as a part of the 'Ebony Stages' as a part of the American Museum's annual African- American History Month celebration.
As second vice president of Pen & Brush an all-women's professional artists organization, she curated an exhibition of women artists of African descent and conducted three programmes as a part of their annual African-American History Month celebrations.
Dr. AbuBakr organized Poets for Peace marathon at the Bowery Poets Caf'. There were over thirty poets and musicians of all ages, ethnicities, and creeds including Amiri & Amina Baraka. The theme was peace and an end immediately to the war in Iraq, security and peace for all human beings and the environment.
The publication of her first collection of short stories is expected this fall.
of the Lower East Side: A Novel in Short Stories
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Paperback: 238 pages
Publisher: Northampton House Press (April 1, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
Autobiography of the Lower East Side is a novel in short stories, set in New York during the late nineteen-fifties and the turbulent decade that followed. Inhale the exotic spices from tenement hallways, smell the sweat and garbage in the streets, feel the sweltering heat of summer in the City. Taste the texture and densities of African dishes: the rice and pepper sauce, stewed fruits, tagine, okra soup, bread and fish. Walk the alphabet streets in the daytime, weaving among pushcarts, or at night in the biting winds of winter, footsteps too close at your back. Sway to the cool jazz. Groove to the lilt of African voices reciting poetry, intoning prayers. Follow a junkie riding out a Jones, an anarchist handing out pamphlets, a pacifist leading a draft resister on the Underground route from New York City to Canada. The Autobiography of the Lower East Side pulsates with the heartbeat of Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1960s, its artists and activists caught in the racial, sexual, political, and class tensions of the era. Ismaili's richly-evoked setting presents characters learning to survive in the jazz scene, the theater, and the arts while dealing with interracial relationships, abuse, addiction, and the toll of the Vietnam draft.
Cantata for Jimmy
Pub. Date: December 2003
Format: Paperback, 60pp
Publisher: Africa World Press
"There is quietness in this poetry that reflects deepness past its own use! Or it seems that way. Rashidah lines up the words to make statements of memory, exhilaration, passion, with a casual formality, as if she thought about that.
Sometimes she is searching for openings so her deeper self can be heard. Sometimes it is that feeling that wandering, wondering attention, which she impresses herself, is an actual Rashidah.
But poets rarely understand everything. Those that do are dangerous. They might carry guns and stuff like the Billy the Kid aesthetic, or they might carry memories and puncture the quietness of life passing for too many without a cry and puncture that flatness with poetic reflection.
Missing in Action and Presumed Dead: Poems (African Women Writers)
Pub. Date: March 1992
Format: Paperback, 112pp
Publisher: Africa World Press
Series: African Women Writers Series
"In these brilliant poems, human life intersects with the human heart, the inner and outer cities, the bushes and the backwaters of our days and nights collide with fate and hope in rivers of song, in crystal diction, that will send goose pimples up and down your spine." -Calvin Herton "Rashidah Ismailli's poetry sings beautifully of the whole African diaspora, from Harlem to Brazil, from an urban woman who lacks the money to pay her AT&T bill, to an African village woman who has no words for death by bombing. It is poetry of witness, preserving in its verses the slaves, the activists, the lovers and the political prisoners that the history tries to obliterate." -Charles Sugnet
Ricekeeprs: A Play
Publisher: Africa World Press
Ricekeepers is a full-length play in eleven scenes, with ten characters, two of whom double up, and a dancer. Set in the Nimba, a village in a Guinee Coast country, the play centers around historical events of the past, particularly a massacre in the village of Nimba where the farmers are most noted for their rice culture.
The Keeper of the Seeds, a female elder, who refuses to sell or give rice to the French during WW2, is beheaded as she attempts to protect the rice harvest and seeds. Her head is never found and because tradition calls for all to be returned to The Creator whole, her assistants continue the ritual of growing rice but never stop grieving for her.
The scene shifts to a more recent date in Nimba where a civil war rages and the current Rice Mother is living as a displaced person in the city. By chance, she meets the director of refugees, also an African translator, who as a young soldier came to the village forty years earlier to demand the rice harvest for the soldiers.
The play deals with colonialism, betrayal, tradition, gender issues, impotence and continuity. It is woman-centered because rice-growing is female work, and the duty of the Rice Mother is to maintain the seeds for planting, conserving of rice for food and locating the sites for growing rice. The ritual of dance and the mask are important elements in the play, especially because the mask embodies the past and predicts the future.
Rashidah Ismaili, Cheryl Byron, Sandra M. Esteves, Rota Silvestrini, Victoria Hunter
Pub. Date: November 1978
Format: Paperback, 128pp
Publisher: Shamal Books, Incorporated