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Friday Feature: devorah major

Born and raised in California, devorah major served as San Francisco’s Third Poet Laureate (2002-2006). In 2020 she toured Southern Italy where her sixth book of poetry with open arms was released in a bilingual edition. A Willow Books Editor’s Choice her seventh book of poetry Califia’s Daughter was published by Aquarius Press in 2020. Her other five poetry books are: and then we became, with more than tongue, where river meets ocean, street smarts (Winner PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Excellence Award), and travelling women (with Opal Palmer Adisa). major also has four poetry chapbooks, two biographies for young adults, and a host of short stories, essays, and individual poems published in anthologies and periodicals as well as two novels Brown Glass Windows and An Open Weave (winner of ALA Black Caucus First Novel Award) Ms. Major is featured on a number of CDs including Fierce//Love and The Tongue is a Drum as a part of Daughters of Yam, a poetry and jazz performance duo. In June 2015 major premiered her poetry play Classic Black: Voices of 19th Century African Americans in San Francisco at the San Francisco International Arts Festival. devorah major performs her work nationally and internationally with and without musicians. She has been a participant in international poetry festivals in Italy, Belgium, Bosnia, Jamaica, and Venezuela, and performed her poetry in France, the Bahamas and Germany. She works as a part-time Senior Adjunct Professor in Critical Ethnic Studies and Writing and Literature at California College for the Arts. Visit devorah's website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

word time

how old is your language

he asks and pauses

for answers that will not

come to the tongue

my language of memories

is buried in bone marrow

spilling out in blood

rich with copper

salt and ancestor breath

my language of touch was

inherited from the first ones

who tasted green, swallowed night

and learned by stroke

and knead to know each other

my language of dance

choreographed on waves

and undulant meadow grasses

now rests in lamp lit shadows

and my language of speech

is words welded and wielded

round the globe

a language of jazz and goobers

okra and okay opening

the wow of africa

while hindi lies with norse

and latin is a bedfellow of german

a trade language english

smelted by a people committed

to war and domination

my language bends and recreates itself

claims a lineage measured

across light years of knowing

forgetting and learning once


Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.

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