Hello everyone and thank you for coming.
As you know, tonight’s event was inspired by Paris is Burning, Jenny Livingston’s legendary documentary that chronicled the ballroom scene of the New York 1980’s.
For all its limitations, that documentary laid bare the violence and oppression experienced daily by queer and trans folk at the intersection of racism, misogyny and homophobia in the United States.
The subjects of Livingston’s film—the legendary children of the houses of LaBeija, Ninja, Pendavis, Extravaganza—lived and often died under the crushing weight of a history of violence, silence, and erasure.
And yet, they would not be crushed. They couldn’t be. Amidst the lethal forces of relentless poverty, ostracism and criminalization, they thrived. Made houses when denied a home. Claimed mothers when denied a family. Made love and cultivated joy when denied a life.
It is in this spirit that we bring you this event tonight. The poems you’re about to hear are not just a testament of the enduring reality of racial injustice in the United States today.
They are also— if not most of all —a testament to the strength, the courage, the POWER of those of us whose humanity is everyday denied, and still rise up.
They come to you tonight, as Danez Smith once wrote, “out of ink, out of breath, and out of patience”, demanding that we do much more than mourn but also rage, rise up besides them.
That Paris is STILL burning more than twenty years after Livingston’s documentary was first released perhaps should not surprise, though it should certainly bewilder and enrage us.
Still, our rage would have no power if it did not also include a celebration of what, to quote Lucille Clifton, [we] have made into a kind of life; a celebration of the fact that every day, something has tried to kill us, AND HAS FAILED.
Four poets will read tonight: Justin Philip Reed, David Tomás Martínez, Dawn Lundy Martin and Danez Smith.
After a fifteen-minute intermission, their reading will be followed by a mini-ball where members of South Florida’s own ballroom scene will compete in the categories of Realness and Vogue Fem.
Before I open the floor to all this beautiful madness, however, I’d like to ask for a moment of reflection, not just for the victims of the Parisian tragedy that has given the title of tonight’s event a pointed level of urgency, but for all the victims of hatred, violence and oppression around the world whose deaths our culture often deems unmournable.
If you would, please join me in a brief moment of silence.
We hope the work you hear tonight, and the performances you see, not only leave you breathless but alive, ready to rise up with others as they claim their power, as they remind us, even though they shouldn’t have to, that black and brown lives matter.
Without any further ado, please help me welcome to the stage our first reader for the night: Justin Philip Reed.
JV Portela, Program Director