Afaa Michael Weaver

Afaa Michael Weaver photo

Afaa Michael Weaver (蔚雅風) was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1951.  He attended the public schools there and graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic High School in 1968 at the age of sixteen as a National Merit finalist. He studied engineering and sociology for two years at the University of Maryland (1968-1970), and then left college to begin a fifteen year stint as a factory worker in Baltimore.  After a year at Bethlehem Steel Company (1970-1971), he took a job as a semi-skilled laborer at Procter & Gamble on Baltimore’s harbor, opposite the Fells Point community where Frederick Douglass once lived.  He also served in the U.S. Army Reserves (1970-1973) as a volunteer enlisted man and received an honorable discharge.

Tess Onwueme, the Nigerian playwright and fiction writer, gave Michael the name ’Afaa’ in nineteen ninety-seven.  Afaa means ’oracle’ in the Ibo language.


Narrative of literary career:

While a factory worker, he wrote and published poetry, short fiction, and journalism.  In 1980 he founded Seventh Son Press, and one year later started Blind Alleys, a literary journal, with Melvin Brown as co-editor.  The journal published known and unknown poets and writers including Frank Marshall Davis, Peter Harris, Lucille Clifton, Kimiko Hahn, Nikky Finney, and Andrei Codrescu.  As a free lance journalist during his factory career, Afaa had a byline in the Baltimore Sunpapers.  He later wrote for the Baltimore Afro-American, the City Paper of Baltimore, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune.

In 1984 he signed the contract for Water Song, his first book of poetry, with Charles Rowell of the Callaloo poetry series.  It was submitted for the Pulitzer.

In 1985 he received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, at which point he left the factory and was accepted to Brown University on a full university fellowship. From Excelsior College he received a B.A. in Literature in English (1986) and from Brown an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (1987) with a focus in playwriting and theater.  His playwriting teacher and advisor was Paula Vogel, and his mentor in African-American theater was the late George Houston Bass.

In 1990 Afaa began teaching at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, after two years of part-time teaching at New York University, the City University of New York, and Seton Hall where he was the writing consultant for Seton Hall’s law school.

In 1993 he had two professional theater productions.  In Philadelphia that spring Rosa was produced at Venture Theater as a small Equity production.  That winter Elvira and the Lost Prince was produced in Chicago at ETA Theater where it won the Playwrights Discovery/Development Award. (PDI).  Subsequently, Afaa became a member of the the PDI theater project along with the Ron Milner, Robb Penny, Vantile Whitfield, Eleanora Traylor, and ETA’s founder Abena Joan Brown, among others.

From 1997-2002 he served as the Editor of Obsidian III, based at North Carolina State University, during which time he oversaw the publication of the first email discussion of black poetics and the journal’s 25th anniversary issue, among others.

In addition, he edited These Hands I Know,  (Sarabande 2002) a collection of essays on black family life with Henry Louis Gates, Edwidge Dandicat, Alice Walker, and others as contributors.

Afaa’s short fiction appears in Gloria Naylor’s Children of the Night and Maria Gillan’s Identity Lessons.  In 1998 he was named a Pew fellow in poetry. 

Involvement in Chinese Culture:

A practitioner of Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) beginning in 1979, Afaa’s long involvement with Chinese culture resulted in a Fulbright (2002) to Taiwan, where he taught at National Taiwan University.  In 2002 he began studying Mandarin.  While on sabbatical leave in 2004-2005 he studied at the Taipei Language Institute in Taipei, Taiwan, for eight months at the intermediate level of speaking, reading, and writing.  

On October 8th ’ 10th , 2004, Afaa chaired the first Simmons International Conference on Chinese poetry (SICPC), with a guest list including Zheng Chouyu, Yu Jian, Yu Kwang Chung, Wang Xiaoni, Dr. Michelle Yeh, Dr. Chris Lupke, and Goran Malmqvist.

In April 2005, he was awarded a gold friendship medal from the Chinese Writers’ Association in Beijing while attending the National Poetry Festival at Beijing University.  As part of the festival he gave a table talk on language acquisition and poetics entitled ’The Poet’s Peculiar Life.’  He also gave poetry readings in Kunming and Hai Nan University during his April tour.

Afaa is a formal disciple of Shifu Huang Chien Liang of the Tien Shan P’ai Association and holds the black sash and first tuan (degree) from the World Kuoshu Federation.  In Taiwan he has taught Taijiquan at He Nan Buddhist Temple and Monastery at the invitation of Dr. Yu Hsi, the temple director.   A poet and writer, Dr. Yu Hsi is known for his Buddhist inspired art and collaborations with prominent composers and artists in Taiwan and China.

At Simmons College in Boston, Afaa is the Alumnae Professor of English and Director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center.  A former member of the Cave Canem faculty, he is a Cave Canem Elder.

He has given several hundred readings in the U.S. and abroad in France, England, Taiwan, and China.  Afaa lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Visit Weavers official website.

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11 Books by Afaa Michael Weaver