2015 Changemaker: Carolyn Holbrook and The Loft Literary Center

Carolyn Holbrook
Photo courtesy of B Fresh Productions for Intermedia Arts

“[As Curated by: More than a Single Story] highlights the talent we have right here in our midst and it illuminates how each of those talents are distinctive, but are bound together in sisterhood.”
– Sherrie Fernandez-Williams

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and an ignorant comment inspired Carolyn Holbrook to curate a series of panels of Black women writers.

Birchbark Books, a bookstore in Minneapolis, hosted a reading event in 2011 and invited Holbrook and her Black women’s writing group. During the Q&A session at the reading, Holbrook recalled that an acquaintance, who is a White woman, exclaimed to the panelists, “I’m just so surprised that you all sound so different! You’re all so different!”

“And I [thought to myself], ‘Damn! Did she really just say that?'” Holbrook says.

When Holbrook received an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2015, she says she intended to do to only two readings, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, with members of her writing group. Then she saw a panel about spoken word and she loved what she saw from the young spoken-word artists of color. Holbrook had just seen Nigerian author Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Dangers of a Single Story,” where the writer talks about the problem of hearing one particular narrative about a group of people or a nation leading to ignorance, if not prejudice.

“Then, in the middle of the night – BOOM! I knew I had to do a panel series about Black women writers,” Holbrook remembers.

Holbrook said she thought of several women she wanted to have participate in the series. When she visited her daughter’s hair salon, Holbrook discovered some of those women were her daughter’s clients.

The three panels, held at the Loft Literary Center in the fall, were called “As Curated by: More than a Single Story,” and covered three parts of the African Diaspora: the United States, the Caribbean and western and eastern Africa.

When asked why she thought the series was so important, Holbrook offered a straightforward answer, “People’s responses to it. That was it.”

Several things have surprised her about the panels: The full houses for all three, where people were “fully present,” the age groups that attended, and the way The Loft supported the series – including providing the space at no charge for the events, which in turn provided support for the panelists – allowing Holbrook to pay an honoraria to the presenters through her Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, The Loft’s Program Manager, says, “[The full houses] demonstrate that we really have a hunger to engage with each other about Black women’s relationship to the literary arts. It highlights the talent we have right here in our midst and it illuminates how each of those talents are distinctive, but are bound together in sisterhood.”


Carolyn Holbrook recommends her favorite books by Black women authors:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Citizen by Claudine Rankine