Black History

African Voices Magazine Celebrates its 30th Year

A Few Proud African Voices in the Long Song

by Maitefa Angaza

African Voices (AV) has been celebrating a happy and active 30th anniversary since last year. This is hard to believe for lovers of the magazine, its film festival and audiences at events and participants in discussions and workshops. But it’s true. Thirty years! Founder Carolyn Butts has created the staying power to keep leading what she loves all these years — many of them tough. But Carolyn is very proud and happy with the gradual growth, the recent grant funding, the Oscar nomination accreditation, and Spelman College now archiving it all for generations to come.

I served as editor of African Voices magazine for several years and was a reader and admirer before then. When Carolyn asked me to join the AV forces, I was surprised and pleased. It turned out to be more than I expected, mostly in good ways and was an optimal opportunity to contribute. I served on its board and the organizing committee of its Reel Sisters Film Festival. I suggested magazine art by Jimmy James Greene and Ademola Olugebefola, which was pivotal in the Black theater professionals’ photo in Marcus Garvey Park, and helped out with the Schomburg Library exhibition.

We did so many important things: victories, touching moments, and healing support. Many other people played substantial roles in helping African Voices Communications Inc. to grow and to prevail. We’d like you to meet three of them.

Layding Kaliba,
Longtime Poetry Editor

“My old friend Richard Bartee told Carolyn she should meet me. I introduced her to many poets she didn’t know because she was new on the scene. It worked out well because she would focus on the people in her age group, like Jessica Care Moore and Saul Williams.

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Originally AV wasn’t getting many grants and Kaliba didn’t have a problem kicking in money when necessary. He says many of the people he was associated with got excluded to a large degree. So when AV came along, he made sure that a lot of the poets he put in the magazine were people who should have been well-known. Also a jazz lover, Kaliba featured some musicians in the organization’s live events, and he took part in the tribute-paying events, giving awards to people who deserved them.

“It was very exciting. I met many people after joining the magazine that were instrumental to me, so African Voices gave me as much as I gave them, if not more. I founded Single Action Productions publishing company in the ‘70s. I’m working on my seventh book, From Jump Street: A Burnt Offering. I’ve been in Bum Rush the Page, did much stuff with Gary of Blind Beggar Press, and was in Ebony Magazine, The New York Times, and Amsterdam News.”

Debbie Officer,
Longtime Book Review Editor

“I started at AV shortly after it was founded,” said Officer. “There were a few of us at the Amsterdam News at the time, and Carloyn — the consequential artist — was always thinking of ways to connect with the artist community. “

Officer has worked at other Black-owned publications, including The Daily Challenge and Black Issues Book Review, but her time at African Voices has been pretty much since its beginning.

“I’ve always been the book review editor, and as a writer and educator, I feature work by writers in the African Diaspora,” said Officer. Reviews of In The House of the Interpreter by Ngugi wa Thiong’O, a review of a photography book by Deb Willis, and Sacred Nile by Chester Higgins are examples of what she offers to readers.

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“People still love the feel of the magazine,” she said. “They love the covers, the photography, and other original art accompanying most pieces. I represent AV for the New York State Council on the Arts, and we discuss how to reach an audience and to connect with people who give artists a voice and a space while still being able to sustain the organization financially.”

Iman Childs, Helping to Archive the Spelman Collection
Iman Childs is new to working with African Voices magazine but first became involved with the organization while a senior in college when her film, In Plain Sight, was selected to screen at the Reel Sisters Film Festival in 2014. When Carolyn asked her to help with organizing the materials to be sent for archiving at Spelman College, she was honored, and while learning on the job, she has been a great asset.

“We’re so excited that Spelman, the premier college for Black women, is archiving this great organization founded and led by a Black woman,” Officer said. “I started working last summer going through Carolyn’s old materials, sorting through materials for award ceremonies, checks, donations, and grants and then sending Spelman the actual magazines. I’m also working on a catalog of all of the artists that have appeared in the magazine. It’s exciting for me to say how the organization has been impactful over the years and how it’s grown, and I know some people my age or younger who will be able to make great use of this information. To open voices for a younger generation to connect with African Voices.”

Carolyn Butts
“A lot of African American publications can get lost in the mix,” said Butts, “because they may not have the resources to preserve the literature and the art in, say, a magazine. And we can look at something like Ebony magazine, and their archives went someplace else. So this is something that we’re going to continue to build on so that people have these voices to study and inspire them to continue the tradition.”

Butts also mentioned that not only the writers and visual artists would be archived, but the filmmakers as well.

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“A listing of the 1500 films and the panels at Reel Sisters will be included,” she said. “This will not only expand awareness of these films but also a list of Black and other people who can be hired in the industry.”

Our Time Press will complete its celebration of the hard work and good fortune of 30 years of African Voices in a third article to be published soon. Carolyn Butts will likely seek to name some of the many others who were important contributors to this success story.

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