A Conversation with Professor Emeritus Eugene B. Redmond

“Dressed up in pain the flatted-fifth began its funeral climb up the tribal stairwell…”–Eugene B. Redmond, Milestone: The Birth of an Ancestor

Eugene B. Redmond standing in front a quilt commemorating 40 years of his life. Quilt by fabric artist Edna Patterson. Photo Credit: E. Dustman

Sunday, Aug. 26 marked two historically significant events for the state of Illinois–the East St. Louis Heritage Festival and the Illinois Bicentennial celebration. The event, held at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, was presented by the City of East St. Louis, the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial, and Ameren. The celebration commemorated the 200th anniversary of the signing of the first Illinois Constitution on August 26, 1818 in Kaskaskia, Illinois.

Numerous exhibitors blanketed the grass behind the center showcasing the rich history of East St. Louis along with plans for revitalizing the region. Amidst all of the tents and tables, and having just finished reciting lines of poetry over a backdrop of jazz, stood East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene B. Redmond. Widely revered for his poetry and contributions to the Black Arts Movement, Redmond is an Emeritus Professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and was also a teacher and counselor for the University’s Experiment in Higher Education (EHE) program in East St. Louis. There, he taught with legendary dancer, choreographer, and educator Katherine Dunham, who ultimately inspired the title of his seminal poetry collection, Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: A Critical History.

Deeply rooted in SIUE, Redmond donated a collection of his life’s work to the Lovejoy Library in 2008. The collection consists of thousands of poems, books, manuscripts, letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, among a variety of other ephemera. In an effort to preserve and provide access to this historically significant collection, SIUE opened The Eugene B. Redmond Collection and Learning Center in 2016.

Where does one even begin with a collection so immense? Redmond suggests to, “Start light by looking at pictures of Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Quincy Jones. Go deeper to the letters––the exchanges between Maya Angelou and myself. Look at the brochures, playbills, the things I read, and the notes I took in between the lines of essays.” Above all, he stresses one thing to the students of SIUE, “Don’t leave SIUE without knowing who Katherine Dunham is…who Elijah Lovejoy is and why they named the library after him.”

Redmond maintains an active voice in national and international writing circles and serves as a beacon of hope, radiating vitality for the city of East St. Louis. Spending any amount of time with him, it is easy to realize the strong influence he has had on the Black Arts Movement and continues to have in African American culture today. Redmond still actively writes, writing mostly Kwansabas, or poetry of sevens.

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