By Sarah Stanley

Renowned poet, playwright, and Simmons College professor Afaa Michael Weaver treated the Woods Hole community to a poetry reading on Friday for the village’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Weaver, a Baltimore native who spent several years working with his father and uncles in a factory before embarking on a remarkable literary career, read a number of poems to honor the June 19, 1865, implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, over two years after it was signed into law. The anniversary of the law’s enforcement is now celebrated as Juneteenth, commemorating the national abolishment of slavery.

Afaa Michael Weaver performs a poetry reading for Woods Hole’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Photo by Sarah Stanley

Afaa Michael Weaver presents a poetry reading at Woods Hole’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Photo by Sarah Stanley

Surrounded by antique botanical prints, Weaver captivated the crowd gathered in the Meigs Room of Swope Conference Center. His selections showed his wide range as a poet, covering topics from childhood crushes to familial love, from personal growth to class and race. He opened, appropriately, with a poem called “Science,” in which his childhood self begs to be rescued from science class. He followed with thoughtful poems— many dedicated to various family members, friends, and acquaintances—that recalled experiences throughout his life. “Remember,” a particularly poignant poem written for his granddaughter, urges her repeatedly to alert him if he forgets to protect her:

If I forget to plug the sun,

let me know

If I forget to tame the sharks’ teeth,

let me know

If I forget to stop the tsunamis,

let me know

If I forget to tie up the bears,

let me know

If I forget to chase away the viruses,

let me know…

“[Poetry is] my way of legitimizing my life,” Weaver said in a Q&A after the reading. “It led me gradually to a realization of who I am spiritually and secularly.”

Scientists and other community members enjoyed Weaver’s readings before heading into the late afternoon sun for a barbeque on the lawn at the nearby NOAA Fisheries Service.

The event was organized by the Black History Month Committee, which includes members from the MBL, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Sea Education Association, USGS Science Center for Coastal and Marine Geology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Woods Hole Research Center. The committee celebrates and educates the Woods Hole community on African American history and culture.