27 Nov

Indies Arts Awards: Ahki Dasan Ahanu

Indies Arts Awards: Durham poet Dasan Ahanu uses hip-hop education and action to inspire more work


North Carolina has retained a poet laureate for nearly seven decades. In that time, however, North Carolina has never had an African-American poet laureate.

Dasan Ahanu can barely imagine a scenario where that might happen.

“There is a whole group of faith-based and spoken-word poets of color that aren’t necessarily thought of in these situations,” Ahanu, the Durham-based poet, playwright and educator, told me last summer.

Gov. Pat McCrory had recently appointed Valerie Macon to the poet laureate position, in spite of a paltry publishing résumé. The move met strong, swift controversy. I asked Ahanu, or Christopher D. Massenburg, for his take on the debacle not long after Macon resigned in response to “negative attention.”

“Would an artist like myself really be considered for the position?” Ahanu said, noting the state’s availability of prominent, overlooked African-American poets, including Jaki Shelton Green. “Is that something that could be aspired to in North Carolina? What response would my appointment bring?”

Amid the fallout, McCrory installed Shelby Stephenson as the state’s new poet laureate. A retired UNC-Pembroke professor who writes country music songs, pens pieces about hunting possums and lives on a family farm where his great-great grandfather owned African-American slaves, Stephenson seemed more qualified than Macon. But it was a conservative, safe move.