Unique Robinson on Erica Hunt

Introduction to Erica Hunt, Contemporary Writers Series, Mills College 3.19.2013

By Unique Robinson

To say Erica Hunt is a poet, essayist, and organizer is an understatement. She is a continual leading expert on Black social justice and economic issues, hailing from New York City, where she continues to reside today. In 2010, she stepped down from her Executive Director position at the 21st Century Foundation in New York, where she sought to strengthen Black giving and community-based philanthropy through donor education. Under her supervision, 21CF has grown from an all-volunteer organization, to a premier national $8 million public foundation.

This was unbeknownst to me in 2009, when I was a recent graduate of Hampshire College along with her daughter Madeleine Hunt-Erhlich, and stayed at their lovely house one night before an interview the following morning. Over dinner, she previewed a film she had organized with Mario Van Peebles entitled Fair Game, which investigated the post-racial myth that Black men now had a level playing field since Obama’s election. This film featured a who’s who of Black men in the entertainment industry, and an examination of institutionalized racism that still plagues this country today. I watched in awe, like, “whoa Maddie. Why didn’t you tell me your mother was a powerhouse?”

She holds a B.A. in Literature from San Francisco State University, and spent a considerable amount of the 1970s and early 1980s right here in the Bay Area on the poetry scene, after which she returned to New York. They deemed her a part of the “Language poets” scene, but she far surpasses this label. Her writing investigates the notion of an “oppositional poetics”, which in her own words, consists of “a field of related projects which have moved beyond the speculation of skepticism to a critically active stance against forms of domination. By oppositional, I intend, generously, dissident cultures as well as ‘marginalized’ cultures, cutting across class, race and gender.” Poetic engagement with politics should, she states, produce not pronouncements of policy positions but “poetry that extends beyond the boundaries of the self, to the open question of the possible, the construction of a society that promotes the ‘best’ (free, democratic, just, flexibly dialectic, etc.) in our human natures.” The question is never either/or in her writing: form or content, black or avant-garde. She writes poems that teeter on the verge of legibility, blur private and public, set boundaries anew and implicate us as practitioners of this moment and the next.

Just a fraction of her works include:

  Time Slips Right Before the Eyes, 2006

  Piece Logic 2002

  Arcade with prints by Alison Saar 1996

And she has been published in these anthologies 

  Nineteen Lines: A Drawing Center Writing Anthology (New York, ROOF Books, Lytle Shaw, editor, 2007)

  Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Ten Years of Cave Canem, 2006

In 2007 and 2006 respectively, along with a league of essays and awards and fellowships, namely Duke University/University of Cape Town Center Fellow for Leadership and Public Values from 2004-2005.

In talking with her, I learned she also just completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bennington College in January.

Currently, she is devoting herself full time to writing, writing, and writing…which is where I’d hope to be too, with a career as accomplished as hers.

 Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueers, Please give it up for Miss Erica Hunt.

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