Kysha N. Brown
A college classmate and friend of Kysha Brown Robinson’s once said of her first
impression of Brown: "I remember seeing this little girl sitting at the
front of the room with a really serious look on her face. There was
something about her, I said 'I bet she g'on have some provocative [stuff] to
say.' And she did."
Small and serious. An apt description of the 5' 1" woman who has approached each of her life's goals with a fiery, persistent intensity. She not only finished high school with honors, she was a National Merit Scholar and recipient of a landmark scholarship to the University of New Orleans. Once she found the courage to say aloud "I am a writer," it wasn't long after that she declared herself a publisher.
Brown's poetry is widely anthologized, in such collections as Beyond the Frontier: African-American Poetry for the 21st Century (Ed. E. Ethelbert Miller. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2002) and Role Call (Ed. Tony Medina et al. Chicago: Third World Press, 2002). Critics have declared "meticulous craft, a fine ear for alliteration and a sensitive use of metaphor" as hallmarks of her work. For Brown, who began seriously pursuing a writing career after joining the New Orleans writing workshop NOMMO Literary Society in 1995, that meticulous craftsmanship is a means rather than an end. Producing a body of work that will stand up to time's critical eye is key to Brown's larger goal of contributing to literature, particularly poetry.
When Brown joined NOMMO Literary Society at the invitation of Kalamu ya Salaam, a renowned New Orleans writer, she was delighted to find her literary home, a supportive and committed community of writers. "What I saw was that there was a life before me that I had not known possible," says Brown. "I knew then what I was born to do."
What she wanted to do was write and publish. One day, she thought, she would own her own press. Salaam insisted that "one day" was now. In 1995 Brown and Salaam founded Runagate Press ’ which later became Runagate Multimedia ’ with a stated mission "to promulgate New Orleans and African heritage cultures world wide."
Since Runagate's inception, Brown and Salaam have published the anthology Fertile Ground (1996), which includes the works of renowned writers Amiri Baraka, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Sonia Sanchez and others. A second collection, From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets, an anthology of established and emerging New Orleans writers, was released in 1998. Later that same year, Runagate ’ in association with Blackwords and Alexander Publishing Group’ released 360 Degrees: A Revolution of Black Poets, an anthology of contemporary black poetry that encompassed the rush of the then newly re-energized poetry scene.
To say that operating an independent press committed to publishing black poetry has been challenging is an understatement of epic proportions. Brown and her partners have financed Runagate's endeavors themselves. To fund her passion, Brown has steadily moved along a parallel career track that has taken her from administrative work at a major medical center to production administration for one of the country's largest music festivals ’ The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival ’ to her current position as executive director for a neighborhood development initiative. Along the way she has brought her work, her skills and her love of poetry to the stage, the classroom, and the public arena. For three years, she, alongside Salaam, led NOMMO Literary Society's weekly writing workshop as associate director. Through Runagate she co-produced and hosted a New Orleans cable show featuring local poets. She has taught poetry workshops in New Orleans Public Schools and was poet in residence with the New Orleans Ballet Association. She has been a presenter at academic conferences at Howard University, New York University, and the University of Maryland. Since 1996 she has performed around the country with Kalamu ya Salaam's WordBand, a unique poetry/music performance ensemble. In 2003, she was named the featured poet for the Tom Dent Forum, a presentation of the African American Resource Center at the New Orleans Public Library.
Brown married Frederick Robinson in the summer of 2002 and the couple divides their time between New Orleans and the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg. Today, Brown Robinson finds herself immersed in a life of art and contribution, a future she only hinted at in 1998's "a letter to myself1":
writing to say
that i am finally
to join you
in our future
it has taken me
packing our bags for
life is no easy task
at any rate,
I’ll be you
when I get there