This month, as we celebrated the rich cultural contributions of African Americans throughout history, I started exploring creative works inspired by African Americans. I began with Rosa Parks, as the Library of Congress opened an exhibit celebrating her life and accomplishments. Ms. Parks herself was a creator—she wrote several books, which are registered with the Copyright Office. She also wrote forewords for many more. But searching “Rosa Parks” in the copyright records revealed hundreds of works she inspired, including biographies, screenplays, scripts, visual art, and many, many musical works.
After conducting this research, I decided to investigate other African American influences on creative works. And among Copyright Office staff was the perfect place to look. I’ve been writing about my coworkers for more than three years, and their creative accomplishments are quite impressive. We have composers, writers, artists, singers, musicians, actors—the list goes on and on. So I asked around and found three coworkers willing to share their works inspired by other African American creators.
Eric “E-Baby” Smith works in the Out-Processing Section. Eric also is an accomplished poet who hosts a sold-out open mic night every month. He has released two CDs of his poetic works, My Thoughts Are in This Ink and Inktoxicated, and a book, Haiku-N-U. He’s working on a second book now, and he has registered his works with the Copyright Office. “I preach copyright registration everywhere I go,” he said.
Eric says people are his inspiration. He talks to people and turns what’s on their mind into poetry. He feels if one person is feeling it, others could be too. For his poem “Am I Racist?,” Eric interviewed black and white people about mixed-race marriages and turned their thoughts into his poem. Another poem, “DaDa’s Angel,” was inspired by a man who lost his daughter to a stray bullet. “The way I present it, I cry, and people believe it was me,” he said. “People tend to get into a poem a little more when they believe it’s personal.”
Eric is not the only poet in the Office. Andrea Howard, who works in the Literary Division of the Registration Office, wrote a poem inspired by Maya Angelou. Andrea writes a blog that includes all kinds of content inspired by people, events, and life in general.
Andrea re-read Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 2018 and was inspired by her story on how she decided to speak after years of being mute as a child. “Maya was mute but wanted to hear the poems in the books that she was reading spoken,” Andrea said. “Poetry’s power got her to speak, and that moved me.” Andrea’s work, “A Poem for Miss Maya,” shares the story of how Angelou spoke her poetry and the world listened.
Andrea’s poetry once inspired a teacher to use it in her class. “That was exciting,” she said. “Having one of my poems speak to someone so much that she wanted to use it to teach meant a lot.”
Working in the Copyright Office, we see thousands of creative works. Lauren Fasceski of the Copyright Acquisitions Division saw a book come through the Office about the Gee’s Bend quilters. African American women from the rural town of Boykin, Alabama, began making quilts out of necessity to stay warm. They made the quilts from whatever old fabrics they could find. Their quilts have been featured in several books and museum exhibits, including The Smithsonian.
One quilt in the book especially caught Lauren’s attention. This quilt by Loretta Pettway was made of jeans and work pants and inspired Lauren to make a beaded bracelet. She has done beadwork before, and the combination of the colors and way the quilt was put together inspired her work. “It was an interesting story about her quilts,” Lauren said. “I made my own pattern based on this quilt, because I really liked the pattern and the fact that it was made of old work clothes.” Lauren’s bracelet is still a work in progress while she continues her search for the right color beads.
We’d love for you to share in the comments your story of creativity inspired by African American works.