Dr. Rashidah Ismaili AbuBakr is a writer of short stories, plays, and poetry.
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. 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 a 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 Cafe’. This involved high school and college students from Muslim cultures using their heritage as the 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 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 the 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 a 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 programs as a part of their annual African-American History Month celebrations.
Dr. AbuBakr organized Poets for Peace marathon at the Bowery Poets Cafe’. 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.