Black Lines Matter: Poetry that goes beyond the page

The group cultivates joy and community through poetry and creative writing.

The group Black Lines Matter conducts a session.

Courtesy of Keno Evol

The group Black Lines Matter conducts a session.

by Liv Martin

Blackmospheres. This is the word director Keno Evol uses to describe the gatherings that take place through his nonprofit, Black Table Arts.

At only 25, Evol has created a community for creative people of color in the Twin Cities. Black Table Arts began in 2015 with the “Free Black Table Open Mic” at Minneapolis’s Illusion Theater, and has been evolving ever since.

The nonprofit’s mission is to promote black joy, sci-fi social work (another term coined by Evol) and community education through frequent organized events.

For example, there’s “The Black Floor,” a creative hip-hop dance program created in partnership with Tu Dance Company. This year, BTA had its first major education conference, “The Because Black Life Conference,” on the University of Minnesota campus.

“Black Lines Matter” is the organization’s writing program for black and POC writers. The program is hosted every other Saturday at the Open Book literary arts center.

A’Bryana Ware studies sociology and African-American studies at the University. The single parent of a 6-year-old, she also works three jobs.

Still, Ware finds the time to attend semimonthly Black Lines Matter meetings.

“Keno has really created a good space for black people in Minnesota, where there are not a lot of spaces dedicated to us. Especially when it comes to writing,” said Ware, who has been a member of the group since 2017. “It’s really helped me cultivate my creativity and just get back into writing, which has always been my passion.”

Black Lines Matter meetings are led by Evol, who acts as the facilitator for discussion.

“We try to address a literary element or some form of craft or technique, but then we tie that into larger social themes,” Evol said.

Generally, this sparks a broader class discussion.

Ware described one particularly meaningful experience at Black Lines Matter when a guest speaker came in and talked about the word “yes” in the context of the #MeToo movement.

“That was a deep thing that we talked about that made me want to write more about my own experiences,” Ware said.

All ages are welcome in the Black Lines Matter classroom, which makes for an unconventional learning space.

Ware says the variety in ages and perspectives is one of the most rewarding parts of attending the meetings. Young people are always encouraged to write and be active members of the conversation.

“[Kids are] already deep thinkers, and it’s cool to see how they have a different spin on stuff. I do think it’s good for them to be in the conversation and hone their writing skills,” she said.

Evol said Black Lines Matter is a continuation of nationwide initiatives to promote black creativity.

“I saw a need for spaces that announced their love for black people in public and did it in a way that uprooted shame and re-rooted critical compassion and love,” he said.

University English professor Douglas Kearney, who specializes in black aesthetics, poetics and literature, said Black Lines Matter comes from a long history of black arts initiatives.

“Black Lines Matter and Black Table Arts are in this tradition of — oftentimes grassroots, not always disaffiliated from institutions – [spaces] created in their own energy,” Kearney said. “They’re creating their own institutions to foster art and foster social justice.”

Evol hopes to keep cultivating blackmospheres — in this community and beyond.

What: Black Lines Matter

When: Every other Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: The Loft Literary Center Rm. 303, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis

Cost: Free