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MSU Libraries honoring Lansing Black, lesbian poet Terri Jewell in pop-up display

Terri Jewell
Posted at 10:20 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-09 16:38:42-05

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In honor of Black History Month, Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections has a pop-up display honoring Lansing poet and activist Terri Jewell.

“Terri Jewell was a Black, lesbian poet," said Instruction and Outreach Librarian Ruth Ann Jones. "She lived most of her adult life in Lansing and, after she passed away in 1995, her papers were given to Special Collections, which is why we could do this pop-up exhibit.”

Jones knew she wanted this year's Black History Month pop up exhibit to be unique.

“Our February topic was going to be the beauty of Black hair," Jones said. "Integral to the plans for that event were for us to invite Black students, especially women since it’s mostly about women's hair, to review what we had pulled out.”

With no students on campus for the beginning of the semester, the plan had to be adjusted and feature some of Terri Jewell's work by itself.

“At the time that she passed away there were at least two book projects that were in progress and one of them, this material right here was going to be a book called 'Dreadwoman-Locksister,'” Jones said.

While still continuing the theme of Black hair.

“It was about Black women who wore dreadlocks both photographs and their own reflections on choosing that natural hairstyle," Jones said. "Now 26 years later, it’s not as radical for Black women to wear dreadlocks it was more radical then.”

And displaying some of Terri Jewell's writing.

Terri Jewell spent most of her adult life in Lansing.

“I am guessing as she was a young woman, it might have been that she was dating someone who lived here and decided to move here,” Jones said.

She dug her activist roots in the Lansing community.

“Her connection was that she lived here for almost 20 years and took part in the local community, became part of the local black community, the LGBTQ community, the feminist community," Jones said. "So she made her own connection.”

And wrote many essays and poems about being Black, female and lesbian at the tail end of the 20th century.

“In just the years up to age 41, she published apparently, we haven’t counted, but this is her own count of 300 some poems in different literary journals,” Jones said.

While also allowing others to have a voice in her books.

“She did a lot of work as an editor so she was very active in bringing other people’s voices to greater attention,” Jones said.

Until her sudden death in 1995, she was found dead in a park at 41 years old from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

“Thirty more years or 40 more years of what Terri would have come up with is a loss for the world," Jones said.

Jones said by setting up this exhibit, she hopes to inspire people.

“A big reason that I wanted to do her in a pop-up was hoping that somebody would be inspired to write her biography so she’s not forgotten,” Jones said.

She wanted to shed light on someone not as well known but was an activist for so many.

“Not just thinking oh history is the people that you remember that you’ve heard about so many times, that you’re never going to forget who Martin Luther King was, but all the other voices that didn’t reach that peak of global fame, but we’re still part of their community, part of the conversations that were happening," Jones said. "History is all of us.”

The pop up display will be up again on Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and a virtual event at 3:30 p.m. More information can be found on the library's website.

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