Al Letson at Douglas Anderson Writers Festival
William Jackson, M.Ed.
The last several weeks my mind has been marinated by
the voices of Nikki Giovanni, Al Letson, the passionate
and at times controversial words of Malcolm X.
Not the Malcolm that called Whites, blue or brown eyed
devils, but the Malcolm that came back from the pilgrimage
to Mecca (the Hajj) believed in the ability of men to be
brothers. To respect each other and be at peace in this
world. Everyone deserves a second chance to change
the world in a positive direction.
His transformation from instigator of violence to radical
for knowledge, understanding and solidarity of humanity
caused an upheaval in not only the Black community,
but with people across America.
It proves that learning and wisdom do come from allowing
ones mind to be open, looking at the world through
different eyes and perceptions. He carried a passion
that allowed him to change his thinking and direction.
Malcolm X was not a college graduate, but was still
an “educated man” because of this love for reading.
He commented that, “My Alma mater was books, a
good library. I could spend the rest of my life reading,
just satisfying my curiosity.”
Blacks need to understand the simplistic nature and
empowerment of reading and education. Many in
society especially Blacks are distracted by so many
elements in their lives that the simple practice of
reading has become a chore, this must change if
Black children are to be successful and able to
compete in the 21st century.
The inclusion or invasion of technology
has caused a radical change in learning. You must
read and create content through the communication
of words. Our youth are exposed to things that take
away the will to learn, the desire to work their minds.
Re-education, refocus is needed to teach again the
importance of reading, writing and empowerment of
being passionate about learning.
This leads me to my experiences at the Douglas
Anderson Writers Festival where 20 writers, authors,
playwrights’, and educators at the University of North
Florida where I had a chance to listen to Al Letson
and three presentations:
“Using Specific Detail”, “Writing Your Truth” and “Writing
I was feeling Al Letson when he said listen to the voices
in your head that guide and motivate you to put words
down. To be passionate about your craft, that gift God
has blessed you with. Don’t fight the voices or force
them to be quiet, but allow their energy to flow and
move you in directions that maybe you would not
have gone before.
It was a pleasure to speak to him because he had a
genuine spirit to share his artistic passions in the
writing and story telling process.
I asked him about the importance of passion, and from
that question you could see the energy build up in him.
Cascading of emotions swelled as he talked of how
people must understand the power of passion. Your
passion can take you were talent won’t, the talent is
the gift, but the passion as Al states, “it is
paramount to be passionate about something.”
People have a talent that they know rests in them,
but for some reason whether fear, lack of motivation,
distraction, or even ignorance do not allow it to awaken
and take hold of them. When asked by a young writer
what do you do about the voices, in a humorous tone
that had the audience laughing, Al stated, “Just
shut up and do what is says in your writing.”
Al Letson, a poet, playwright, actor, mentor, speaker,
Black man, father, son of a Baptist preacher, husband.
All these dynamic elements that make up a man who
takes hold of his gifts and engage them to bring people
together. He states that he wanted to be about something
bigger than him, things that have a positive influence
in the lives of others.
As a teacher 3rd generation teacher I have taught 25
years in public education and higher education 7
years I understand about being part of something
bigger. Promoting learning in youth through workshops,
seminars and conferences on Bullying, Cyberbullying,
Internet Safety, Social Media and basic technology.
Blogging about these subjects and teaching at EWC,
the oldest HBCU in Florida.
Praying that students understand the value and where
education can take them in and through life. Even
though he did not go to college, his articulation,
his physical expressions about his craft does not allow
one to think that he is not a graduate of a higher
educational institution. The words from him that
encourage all of us to be “ferocious readers”;
reading allows for the mind to open up imagining
When Al was asked what motivates him he shared
some of the books such as Bill Moyers ”Language
of Life”, Robert Jordan “Wheel of Time” among others.
Reading allows you to be a creator of written and
spoken word, they can connect people to a
commonality they did not know exists.
These same words have been spoken by men and
women from universities and from life experiences
men/women like Malcolm X, Carter G. Woodson,
Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston. Even Toni
Morrison has stated, “If there’s a book you
really want to read, but it hasn’t been written
yet, then you must write it.”
So much was shared about the process of writing:
a. Writing may start from one word
b. Look at your writing from different perspectives
and angles to be able to tell your story
c. Revision is the greatest thing because it allows you to
clarify your thoughts, feelings and the literary direction
you are going in
d. Allow readers to see your craft and show them respect
in your writing. When you respect your readers they
respect you and continue to expect good works from you.
e. Writers must learn to have a clear mission and vision,
direction is key because your writing “leads and directs”
the reader. If you have no direction you are leading your
readers blindly. Eventually they will stop following you.
f. A writer must sharpen their writing skill
g. How does your story affect others
h. Remember the heart of the story
i. Sell your writings, but promoting them to the
people you are writing to
j. seduce your readers not pound their brains with facts
Lastly one of the important messages is Truth.
Al Letson let it be known how important truth is
in writing. Find the truth of the heart of the truth,
be careful in writing the literal truth which can be
lost, but the passionate truth that makes a
connection with the reader.