Guest Author - Sonya L. Wilson
Afaa Michael Weaver is a poet that proves that a person can not only rise above adversity but that they can also excel. Afaa Michael Weaver is a fascinating artist and individual. He is an accomplished poet, playwright, essayist, short story writer and editor.
Weaver’s poetry ranges from the deeply confessional to the abstract. He explores grief and depression as well as the highs and lows of love. He writes about the bonds of family, class and work and he reveals insight about himself, humanity and African American culture.
Afaa Michael Weaver was born Michael Weaver in Baltimore in 1951. He was the oldest of five siblings. His father was a steelworker and his mother was a housewife and in-home beautician. Life was hard for the family at times and his parents sometimes ran an illegal gambling business. He grew up in a very rough neighborhood and Weaver was also a victim of incest.
In 1968, Afaa Michael Weaver graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. After his graduation he attended the University of Maryland. It was during his time at the university that he discovered that he was a poet.
Weaver dropped out of college in 1970 to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Weaver’s wife gave birth to a son with Down’s syndrome. Sadly, the little boy died of complications related to his illness. Weaver became deeply depressed and this depression ended his marriage in 1976.
Weaver’s personal problems continued later in his life when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1995. The poet was given five years to live and put on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Fortunately, through the use of medication, an improved diet and a change of lifestyle he recovered enough so that he didn’t need surgery.
Afaa Michael Weaver’s outlook on life began to change as he struggled through his problems. Influenced by Chinua Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart” he was inspired to take on a Nigerian name. He asked a Nigerian friend and playwright about Nigerian names. She sent him a list of names and he chose Afaa which means “prophet”. He legally changed his name to Afaa in 1998.
Weaver struggled for many years because of his illness, the long-term depression due to the devastating loss of his son and being an incest survivor. He went through two more marriages and divorces because of his problems.
Despite Weaver’s problematic personal life he has a long list of accomplishments. His career began in 1985 when published his first book “Water Song”. He also wrote “some days walk to evening”, “My Father’s Geography”, “Stations in a Dream”, “Timber and Prayer”, “The Indian Pond Poems”, “Talisman”, “The Ten Lights of God” and “Multitudes: Poems Selected and New”. He also held various high positions in educational institutions.
Weaver’s most recent work “The Plum Flower Dance” contains 64 poems, ten of which are new. The book is meant to show the evolution of Weaver’s work over the past twenty years. The book is organized according to the principles of Wu Xing., the Chinese philosophical concept for describing phrases and states of interaction. The five sections of the book correspond to the five elements of Wu Xing, Gold, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. This arrangement comes from the awareness that has come to him as a result of dealing with his personal issues. The Gold and Water sections of the book detail his life and troubles of his childhood. The Wood and Fire sections deal with his struggle as a working class black man and the pursuit, attainment and loss of love. Finally, the Earth section discusses Weaver’s understanding of himself.
Two fascinating things about this poet is his passion for Chinese culture and his creation of a new poetic form called “Bop”. Weaver became interested in Chinese culture in 1979. He is the only African American poet who has the ability to speak, write and read Chinese. He is also a Daoist. Put plainly, Daoism is a peaceful religion that emphasizes nature, balance, order, virtue and being in harmony with the Universe.
Weaver created “Bop” during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization Cave Canem. Cave Canem is a New York based organization that hosts workshops and reading from African-American poets. Bop is a form of poetic argument containing three stanzas with each stanza followed by a repeated line or refrain.
Afaa Michael Weaver is an amazing artist and the portrait of a survivor. He is a true testament to dealing with and overcoming adversity to reach amazing heights.