Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People -- Teachers and Poets

DOVE: Then there were a couple of very very influential teachers. My high school English teacher, Miss . . .Margaret Oshner, everyone was terrified of her. They said, oh, she gives automatic Fs and she did, but she told you what you shouldn't do and then you didn't do it and that was fine, but she brought literature to life and she was absolutely dedicated to it. She made us love Victorian literature, believe it or not, and she did something that was absolutely essential. She took me and a couple of my classmates on a Saturday — got our parents' permission — to a book signing by a poet, John Ciardi. He was in town. I didn't know who John Ciardi was, but what was important to me at the moment was to see a real living writer and I thought, oh, this is possible, this thing I've been doing all my life secretly because I hadn't even shown her any poems, that this was actually viable. You could do this.

BOND: So you saw a living person who did what you had done in secret?

DOVE: Yes.

BOND: And knew you could bring it out in the public then?

DOVE: Well, I knew that it was possible to be a poet in this world. I just had had no examples of this in my life so I didn't even begin to dream that that was possible. I wrote since I was about — I think since the time I actually learned to write in response to the things that I read, I would kind of write the story and put a black girl in it or something like that, but I think I thought that this was something you did as a child and when you got older, you had to get serious and get a real job and I didn't know what was going to happen to that passion. Meeting John Ciardi showed me that in fact there was a way to live your passion.

BOND: And so you held onto it?