Professor of Literature, University of Maine-Farmington

he/him

Michael K. Johnson teaches courses in American literature, multicultural literature, and African American literature. He is the author of several books, including a biography of Montana-born African American singer Taylor Gordon, "Can’t Stand Still: Taylor Gordon and the Harlem Renaissance," published in 2019.

Along with Kalenda Eaton and Jeannette Jones, Johnson is the co-editor of “New Directions in Black Western Studies,” a special issue of the "Journal of American Studies." Most recently he is a co-editor (with Kerry Fine, Rebecca Lush, and Sara Spurgeon) of "Weird Westerns: Race, Gender, Genre.” Johnson has been living in Maine for 22 years and is originally from Tennessee.

Talks

James Weldon Johnson and the Spirituals Revival of the 1920s

Civil rights activist and poet James Weldon Johnson was also a major figure in early twentieth-century music. Co-writer with brother J. Rosamond Johnson of the enduring anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Johnson also helped bring about a revolution in the understanding and reception of African American spirituals in the 1920s as a serious and distinctively American contribution to world folk music. My talk examines the impact of The Book of American Negro Spirituals, an anthology of spirituals collected and arranged by the Johnson brothers and promoted nationally and internationally by a series of concerts featuring tenor Taylor Gordon.


Afrofuturist Westerns

Afrofuturism looks both backwards and forwards, taking into account the realities of the African American past as it also maps out the African American future. My talk looks at the way Afrofuturist texts use the science fiction convention of time travel to reexamine an often forgotten element of American history: African American experience in the American West. Time travel adventures to the historical West help us remember Black western heroes (such as U. S. Marshal Bass Reeves) and offer new perspectives on the tragedies of Black western history (such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921).


Life Writing and the Recovery of African American History

Biographical writing has often replicated social hierarchies, telling the stories of famous figures and “great men” and ignoring the life histories of women and people of color. Drawing on my own biographical writing about the African American Gordon family (who were pioneer settlers in Montana), my talk argues for the importance of biography as means of recovering historical African American figures whose stories have been neglected. The stories of siblings Taylor and Rose Gordon, respectively a nearly-forgotten singer and a contributing writer to a Montana newspaper, reveal the value of listening for the voices that biographical writing too often doesn’t hear.

Coordinator, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition

she/her

Wendy is a 42-year-old addict in long term recovery. Formerly in residence at Southern Maine Women’s Re-entry Center, she is currently a Coordinator for the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. As a recovery coach, Allen is passionate about helping others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope from active addiction into recovery.

Allen enjoy’s good conversation, baking, anything creative, and music. She is also a Facilitator for MHC Discussion Projects and winner of the 2022 MHC Facilitator Prize.

Talks

What if I Dared to Dream? 

This presentation is based around Allen’s personal journey from pre-addiction, active addiction and recovery. It focuses on the mind state of an addict, internal and external stigmas, how the addicted brain thinks, family affects, and what recovery looks like. 

This talk gives a “through the lens” view from someone that is affected by substance abuse disorder and shares insight into the struggles faced on a daily basis to find freedom from addiction. The message of this talk is that no dream is too big, and that change is possible.

Founder and Director, Franco-American Women’s Institute

she/her/elle

Rhea Côté Robbins was brought up bilingually in a Franco-American neighborhood in Waterville known as the South End. Côté Robbins is the author of creative nonfiction, memoirs titled, ‘down the Plains,’ and Wednesday’s Child, winner of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Chapbook Award.

She is editor of Canuck and Other Stories, an anthology of translations of early 20th century Franco-American women writers who wrote about their immigration experience. Her poems and essays have appeared in many publications. She is the founder and director of the Franco-American Women’s Institute, FAWI.

Talks

Who Gets To Tell Story? 

Telling or hearing story while conscious of the human ecology—listening to story justly with social consciousness of equality. I would like to define what qualifies as “story.”  I believe essentially that every person, artifact, ritual, etc. is story.  Everything we know comes to us via story; we are surrounded by story.  Story is the microcosm of the macrocosm. Who, in the cultural milieu, gets to tell story?


Where Are the Franco-American Women in Your Community?

Using a Franco-American woman’s search and research as a model to address the issue of what, if any Franco-American woman wanted to know about Franco-American women and their history, where would they begin if they were not told or not allowed to know and value the contributions of the Franco-American women’s history?


Franco-American Women, Suffrage and Political Activity

What was Camille Lessard Bissonnette doing to promote women’s suffrage in 1910-1911, and what barriers did she face?  What was happening across the border in the QC/Canadian women’s suffrage movement, which started in 1912?  And who were the Franco-American women of Maine who served in the Maine State Legislature starting in 1935?  The lives of these women illustrate the history of women’s suffrage here, connects the present, and helps us understand how we got here.

Master Drummer from Sangbarala, Guinea, West Africa

he/him

Namory Keita, Master Drummer, is a sought-after teacher and performer with a unique style and a wealth of traditional knowledge very rare to find outside the villages of Guinea. His resources include not only his wonderful ability to engage any audience but also his relationships with dancers and drummers locally and around the world.

Talks

Drums of West Africa

Keita is a cultural ambassador wishing to share his culture and in doing so, build bridges of understanding and acceptance through engaging audiences in the musical art forms of the Humana region in West Africa.