July 16, 1919|
|Occupation||Writer, poet, teacher|
Mari Evans (July 16, 1919 - March 10, 2017) was an African-American poet, writer, and dramatist associated with the Black Arts Movement. Evans received grants and awards including a lifetime achievement award from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, and her poetry is known for its lyrical simplicity and the directness of its themes. A scholar, she also wrote non-fiction and edited Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (Doubleday, 1984), an important and timely critical anthology devoted to the work of 15 writers. Evans died at the age of 97 in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 10, 2017.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Evans was 10 years old when her mother died, and she was subsequently encouraged in her writing by her father, as she recalls in her essay "My Father's Passage" (1984). She attended local public schools before going on to the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939 but left without a degree. She began a series of teaching appointments in American universities in 1969. During 1969-70, she served as writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. The next year, she accepted a position as an assistant professor and writer-in-residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she taught until 1978. From 1968 to 1973, she produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience for WTTV in Indianapolis. Later, she wrote that the program was her attempt to represent African Americans to themselves. In 1975, she received an honorary degree from Marian College. Evans continued her teaching career at Purdue (1978-80), at Washington University in Saint Louis (1980), at Cornell University (1981-85), and the State University of New York at Albany (1985-86).
Although her most renowned book of poetry, I Am a Black Woman, was published in 1970, many of her poems preceded the Black Arts Movement, while coinciding with the Black Arts poets' messages of Black cultural, psychological, and economic liberation. Themes of loss, struggle, pride, and resistance are common in Evans' poetry. In her later work, she began to use experimental techniques and incorporate African American idiom in ways that encourage readers to identify with and respect the speaker. Evans spoke of the need to make Blackness both beautiful and powerful. In her poem "I am a Black Woman", the second stanza reads: "I am a black woman tall as a cypress strong beyond all definition still defying place and time and circumstance assailed impervious indestructible." She is also well known for the line: "I have never been contained except I made the prison."
Primarily known for her poetry, Evans also wrote short fiction, children's books, dramas, and essays.