Oakland selected poet, playwright and community activist Ayodele Nzinga as the city’s inaugural poet laureate, city officials announced this week.
Nzinga is the founding producer and director of the West Oakland theater company Lower Bottom Playaz, established in 1999. She’s also the founding director of Black Arts Movement Business District Community Development Corporation, which produces BAMBDFEST, an international arts and cultural festival celebrating the arts in the Black community.
“Her decades-long commitment to Oakland’s art scene will feed the richness of her storytelling as she nurtures creativity in others,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.
Nzinga is the author of at least two books of poetry: SorrowLand Oracle, a collection of spells, incantations and prayers; and The Horse Eaters, described as an origin tale, a reclamation of memory and a movement toward wholeness in thought.
“All of Nzinga’s art is like this,” wrote East Bay Express reporter Darwin BondGraham in a 2015 article. “An actor, playwright, poet and producer, her work is deeply personal and political, but not in an individualistic sense. Her productions spotlight marginalized peoples, telling stories about threatened communities, often written by artists who themselves are pushed to the edges of American theater. Her work is boldly Black, speaking to what she calls the North-American-African experience. Telling the stories of Black lives on stage isn’t an idle exercise for Nzinga.”