The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies will co-host an event with Thacker Mountain Radio Hour at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Rowan Oak, once the home of William Faulkner, featuring poetry and music by Southern women of color. The concert is a part of the center’s fourth annual Sarahfest that runs through the month of October.
Sarahfest is a music and arts festival that originated in Oxford nearly two decades ago and was eventually reestablished by the Isom Center four years ago. Sunday’s event will feature a poetry reading by Ashley M. Jones and music by Hope Clayburn’s Soul Scrimmage as well as Tasche de la Rocha.
From Birmingham, Jones is the winner of the 2018 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry for her book of poetry “dark // thing.” Jones said she is looking forward to partnering with the Isom Center as the two share a common vision.
“My poetry is primarily concerned with the experience and history of black people in America, and specifically with black women,” Jones said. “This work aligns with the Isom Center’s mission to educate and diversify. Instead of hearing an ages-old version of the South, I bring history, pain, joy and my own brand of black-girl-southerness that has often been misrepresented or ignored in traditional literary or educational spaces.”
Jones said she is looking forward to performing her art in a space of such profound literary history. She said it is wonderful to read her poetry in a place with other performers, especially at the home of one of America’s most celebrated Southern authors.
“The arts allow artists to express themselves and to be a mirror to society,” Jones said. “This involves a level of truth-telling that we don’t necessarily get to experience in our regular lives. Not only that, but when you give someone your truth in an artistic format, sometimes they’re more willing to actually listen to you and hear what you’re saying.”
Thacker Mountain Radio Hour has co-hosted the event with the Isom Center in past years, as well. Kate Teague has been a producer and director of Thacker Mountain since 2016 and is a female vocalist and songwriter herself.
“We’ve been doing this show and allowing it to celebrate women musicians and artists for four years, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do this year,” Teague said. “We have the whole lawn available to us with a stage and lights at Rowan Oak to celebrate these artists this year.”
Teague said that Thacker Mountain and the Sarah Isom Center share the same vision for giving a platform to the art created and performed by women artists. She explained that the event is a way to amplify female artists’ voices in the community.
“It’s always a very special night. The Sarah Isom Center is an incredible organization that our university has, and we always look for opportunities to partner with amazing groups,” she said. “The Sarah Isom Center’s passion for celebrating women artists is one of ours as well.”
Theresa Starkey is the associate director of the Isom Center and an instructional associate professor in gender studies. She also helps plan Sarahfest each year.
“Sarahfest is an important opportunity to showcase and celebrate women in the arts, especially women who are doing amazing things in the South,” Starkey said. “Ultimately, we want it to be a community event that people look forward to, enjoy, and where they have a unique artistic and educational experience.”
Starkey reiterated that the goal of the Sarah Isom Center and Sarahfest is education and diversity. She said that one function of the event is to give artists who are women of color a voice in the community.
“One of the core missions of the Isom Center is education. This year’s line-up, particularly, highlights female artists of color,” Starkey said. “By not only giving them the platform to share their artistry but also by giving residents of the Oxford and university community the opportunity to see and hear it, we are highlighting the diversity and beauty of our community.”