commemorative postage stamp

“I try for a poetic language that says, This is who we are, where we have been, where we are. This is where we must go. And this is what we must do.”

Poet and writer Mari Evans initially gained fame in 1970 when her second collection of poetry, I Am a Black Woman, was published. “The volume heralded the arrival of a poet who took her subject matter from the black community,” Wallace R. Peppers wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography, “and who celebrated its triumphs, especially the focus on the beauty of blackness that characterized the black arts and civil rights movements, and who would mourn its losses, especially the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.” Since then, Evans has published several volumes of poetry and children’s books, and written for television, radio, and the theater. Her work has appeared in over 30 textbooks and has been translated into several languages, including German, Swedish, French, and Dutch.

Evans was born on July 16, 1923, in Toledo, Ohio. As she was growing up, her father was her greatest influence. Evans recalled in the essay “My Father’s Passage,” which was included in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, that her father saved her “first printed story, a fourth-grade effort accepted by the school paper, and carefully noted on it the date, our home address, and his own proud comment.” After attending public school in Toledo, Evans enrolled at the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design. However, the subject did not hold her attention for long, and she left without taking a degree.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, Evans began to make her name in the public arena. From 1965 to 1966, she was a John Hay Whitney fellow. Three years later, she received a Woodrow Wilson Foundation grant. From 1968 to 1973, Evans was the producer, director, and writer for the highly acclaimed television program “The Black Experience” for WTTV in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In 1968, Evans published her first volume of poetry, Where Is All the Music? Like many African American poets of the time, she celebrated her heritage while rejecting the conciliatory attitude of African American poets from the 1920s and 1930s. “Though she was born during the Harlem Renaissance, Mari Evans’ poetry reveals little of the inclination toward compromise with white values and forms that was cherished by most black intellectuals of that period,” Alan R. Shu-card wrote in Contemporary Poets. “Quite the contrary, her work is informed by the uncompromising black pride that burgeoned in the 1960s.” In the poem “Who Can Be Born Black,” Evans showed her awareness of the differences between Harlem Renaissance poets and poets of her own generation. Evans’ poem is a response to Countee Cullen’s mid-1920s sonnet, “Yet Do I Marvel,” a long list of the horrors God has created, the worst of which is “To make a poet black, and bid him sing.” In contrast, Evans wrote, “Who/can be born black/and not/sing/the wonder of it/the joy/the/challenge… Who/can be born black/and not exult!”

In 1970 Evans published her second poetry collection entitled I Am a Black Woman, which brought her wide critical attention, and an award for the most distinguished book of poetry by an Indiana writer. Each of the poems in the collection is written from the viewpoint of a different character, and marked her movement toward more politically-based poetry. This is most evident in her third volume of poetry, Night star: 1973-1978, which was published in 1981. “At the heart of Mari Evans’ Nightstar is a questioning of the ways in which we know ourselves and are known, and a recognition of the subtleties of identity,” Romey T. Keys wrote in the book’s introduction. “Her language can compass a range of people and things, sounds and sights, places and times.”

Evans launched her academic career in 1969, which has included positions at several prestigious universities. From 1969 to 1970, she was an instructor in African American literature and writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue. The following year, Evans moved to Bloomington, Indiana, and accepted a job as assistant professor of African American literature and writer in residence at Indiana University. She taught at Indiana University until 1978. From 1972 to 1973, she combined her job at Indiana University with an appointment as a visiting assistant professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Her academic career continued with teaching appointments at Purdue University from 1978 to 1980, at Washington University in St. Louis in 1980, at Cornell University from 1981 to 1985, and at the State University of New York-Albany from 1985 to 1986. Evans has also taught at Miami University-Coral Gables, and Spelman College in Atlanta.

Apart from the world of academia, Evans has served as a consultant to several organizations. From 1969 to 1970 she worked with the Discovery Grant Program for the National Endowment for the Arts. She also served as a consultant in ethnic studies for the Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company from 1970 to 1973.

In addition to poetry, Evans has written plays, essays, and short fiction. Choreographed versions of two of her plays, A Hand Is on the Gate and Walk Together Children, have had successful off-Broadway runs. She has written several books for children, including J.D.(1973),/ Look at Me! (1974), Singing Black (1976), and Jim Flying High (1979). Evans also edited an anthology, Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, which was published in 1984.

By the mid-1980s, Evans’ place in the annals of African American literature was assured. As Peppers wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography: “Her volumes of poetry, her books for adolescents, her work for television and other media, and her recently published volume on black women writers between 1950 and 1980 ensure her a lasting place among those who have made significant contributions to Afro-American life and culture.” Evans now writes children’s books that concentrate on black history and culture for the younger population.  The most important of her countless awards for writing came in 1981 when she received the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award.  Evans’ impact on Africa was reflected in 1997 when the Ugandan government issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Mari Evans is also an activist for prison reform, and is against corporal punishment. She currently works with theater groups and local community organizations.

Cosmonauts Belka and Strelka - A Soviet postage stamp commemorating the two heroes of Sputnik 5 - the first spaceflight to send animals into orbit and return them safely back to Earth. Launched on August 19, 1960 it paved the way for the first human orbital flight less than eight months later with Vostok 1.

This summer, Star Trek, the franchise that dared to boldly go where no man has gone before turns 50. In honor of the show’s enduring mark on popular culture, and the franchise’s golden anniversary, the United States Postal Service is issuing a series of colorful commemorative postage stamps. The Heads of State, a Philadelphia design studio that produces work with a retro, patriotic slant to it, created it with direction from Antonio Alcalá, a designer at Studio A.

Read more about the design process behind creating these colorful 2-inch graphics.

April 29, 2916

Today In History

‘Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, legendary composer and bandleader, was born in Washington, DC, on this date April 29, 1899. Ellington is famous for his songs: “Take the A Train,” “Mood Indigo,” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” among others. He was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp on this date in 1986.’

(photo: Duke Ellington)

- CARTER Magazine

Always a Lady

It’s the 50th anniversary of My Fair Lady, winner of eight Academy Awards and one of the best-loved Hollywood musicals of all time. This exuberant print by legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld perfectly captures the famous scene at Ascot Racecourse, where Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) makes her high society debut. She is accompanied by her tutor, phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who has taken a bet that he can rid Eliza of her low-class accent. All goes well until, carried away by the excitement of the races, her true identity bubbles up in a startlingly coarse outburst.

In a career that spanned over 75 years, Hirschfeld (1903-2003) created caricatures of the stars of stage and screen for such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker, TV Guide and Rolling Stone. Although he is best known for his editorial work, he also did book and album cover illustrations and created a set of U.S. postage stamps commemorating Hollywood legends.

He is known for embedding the name of his daughter, Nina, in most of the drawings he created after her birth in 1945. Can you find her name in this image? (The answer appears at the end of this post.*)

Here Hirschfeld perfectly captures Hepburn’s uncorked enthusiasm and Harrison’s simpering condescension. The drawing also conveys the tension between the stiff, elegant upper class and Eliza’s more casual, fluid demeanor. Hirschfeld has bottled the essence of the scene, which is itself a caricature of high class pretensions and snobbery.

Hirschfeld issued many of his drawings as limited edition lithographs. This print is part of the Artist proofs by Al Hirschfeld collection housed at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. The library has over 90 examples of his work sprinkled throughout its collections, including original drawings, posters and books.

 *“Nina” appears in the folds of Eliza’s parasol.

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Today In History

‘Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, legendary composer and bandleader, was born in Washington, DC, on this date April 29, 1899. Ellington is famous for his songs: “Take the A Train,” “Mood Indigo,” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” among others. He was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp on this date in 1986.’

(photo: Duke Ellington)

- CARTER Magazine