Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a new Black poet every day this month. Every Wednesday for the months after that I will post other Black history figures (I’ll go back to my “first Black” series).
Today’s poet is Ai Ogawa (Florence Anthony) (video at the end of the post)
Florence Anthony (October 21, 1947 – March 20, 2010) was an American poet and educator who legally changed her name to Ai Ogawa(Japanese: 愛小川 Literally: “Love Stream”). She won the 1999 National Book Award for Poetry for Vice: New and Selected Poems.
Ai, who described herself as half Japanese, Choctaw–Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche, was born in Albany, Texas in 1947, and she grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Raised also in Las Vegas and San Francisco, she majored in Oriental Studies at the University of Arizona and immersed herself in Buddhism.
Ai held an M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine. She was the author of Dread (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Vice (1999), which won the National Book Award; Greed (1993); Fate (1991); Sin (1986), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Killing Floor (1979), which was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets; and Cruelty (1973).
She also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bunting Fellowship Program at Radcliffe Collegeand from various universities. She was a visiting instructor at Binghamton University, State University of New York for the 1973-74 academic year. She taught at Oklahoma State University and lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma until her death.
Ai had considered herself as “simply a writer” rather than a spokesperson for any particular group.
Much of Ai’s work was in the form of dramatic monologues. Regarding this tendency, Ai commented:
“My writing of dramatic monologues was a happy accident, because I took so much to heart the opinion of my first poetry teacher, Richard Shelton, the fact that the first person voice was always the stronger voice to use when writing. What began as an experiment in that voice became the only voice in which I wrote for about twenty years. Lately, though, I’ve been writing poems and short stories using the second person, without, it seems to me, any diminution in the power of my work. Still, I feel that the dramatic monologue was the form in which I was born to write and I love it as passionately, or perhaps more passionately, than I have ever loved a man.”
She legally changed her name to “Ai” (愛), which means “love” in Japanese. She said “Ai is the only name by which I wish, and indeed, should be known. Since I am the child of a scandalous affair my mother had with a Japanese man she met at a streetcar stop, and I was forced to live a lie for so many years, while my mother concealed my natural father’s identity from me, I feel that I should not have to be identified with a man, who was only my stepfather, for all eternity.”
Reading at the University of Arizona in 1972, Ai said this about her self-chosen name: “I call myself Ai because for a long time I didn’t want to use my own name, I didn’t like it… it means love in Japanese. But actually I was doing numerology, and A is one and I is ten and together they make eleven, and that means spiritual force and so that was the name I wanted to be under. And it also means the impersonal I, the I of the universe. I was trying to get rid of my ego. I can also write it as an Egyptian Hieroglyph.”
The Guggenheim- winning poet died on March 20, 2010 at age 62, of complications from cancer, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.