Poet, editor, music producer and arts administrator, Kalamu ya Salaam was born Val Ferdinand III in New Orleans on March 24, 1947. Inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes and the civil rights movement in New Orleans, Salaam became interested in writing and organizing for social change. Graduating from high school in 1964, he joined the U.S. Army and served in Korea. After service, Salaam attended Carleton College but returned to New Orleans in 1968 to earn an associate's degree from Delgado College.
During the Black Arts Movement, Salaam was a member of John O'Neil's Free Southern Theatre for five years and was a founder of BLACKARTSOUTH. Changing his name along the way to Kalamu Ya Salaam, which is Kiswahili for "pen of peace," he was a founder of Ahidiana Work Study Center. He also assumed the editorship of the Black Collegian magazine, a post he held from 1970 to 1983. Salaam published cultural and political essays in Black World, Black Scholar and Black Books Bulletin. In 1977, he was part of the first African American activist delegation to the People's Republic of China.
In November 1989 Kalamu ya Salaam produced A NATION OF POETS for the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, GA. The program was a concert reading of poetry by Amiri Baraka, Pearl Cleage, Wanda Coleman, Mari Evans, Haki Madhubuti, Kalamu ya Salaam, Sonia Sanchez and Askia Muhammad Toure. The program was recorded under Mr. Salaam's direction and videotaped for broadcast on the Atlanta PBS affiliate. Mr. Salaam is the producer of A NATION OF POETS cassette and CD.
In May 1992 Kalamu ya Salaam produced NEW WORLD POETS for the Houston International Festival in Houston, TX. The program consisted of three concert readings of poetry by African American poets Jayne Cortez, Haki Madhubuti, Thomas Meloncon; Puerto Rican poet Tato Laviera, Native American poet Jack Forbes, Asian American poet Genny Lim, and Chicana poet Evangelina Vigil-Pinon. The program was recorded by Mr. Salaam.
Mr. Salaam's published plays include: The Destruction of The American Stage in Black World Magazine, Blk Love Song #1 in Black Theatre USA edited by Hatch & Shine, The Quest in New Blacks For The Black Theatre edited by Woodie King, Jr., plus numerous one-acts published in small literary journals. A 1987-88 production of Blk Love Song #1 as part of a double bill produced by Temba Theatre Company of London, England, won the Manchester Evening News 1988 Award for "Best Of Fringe."
Kalamu ya Salaam is the author of seven books of poetry: The Blues Merchant (1969), Hofu Ni Kwenu/My Fear Is For You (1973), Pamoja Tutashinda/Together We Will Win (1974), Ibura (1976), Revolutionary Love (1978), Iron Flowers (1979), A Nation Of Poets (1989).
Mr. Salaam has done numerous pamphlets on political issues, particularly the issue of apartheid. Kalamu ya Salaam has written two children's books, Herufi, An Alphabet Reader and Who Will Speak For Us (written in collaboration with Tayari kwa Salaam).
He has also written two books of essays: Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling: Six Essays In Support Of The Struggle To Smash Sexist And Develop Women (1980) and Our Music Is No Accident (1987), an essay accompanied by 20 duotone photographs.
Kalamu ya Salaam has traveled extensively as a journalist, activist and arts producer: Ghana, Tanzania and Zanzibar, Barbados, Brazil, Cuba, Guadaloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Korea, Japan, The People's Republic Of China, England, France and Germany.
Today, he is senior partner of Bright Moments, a public relations firm. He is also the founder of WordBand, a poetry performance group; the NOMMO Literary Society; and Runagate Press. Salaam has written seven books of poetry. His play, The Breath of Life, was honored by Louisiana State University, and BLK Love Song #1 won a Best of Fringe Award from The Manchester Evening News in England. A respected music writer and critic, he is the arts and entertainment editor for The New Orleans Tribune and is a regular contributor to Wavelength, The Louisiana Weekly and The New Orleans Music Magazine. He was executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for many years.
Mr. Salaam currently lives in his hometown of New Orleans, LA.
Poems - 15 in all
Kalamu Ya Salaam
We Say, Bechet
Be About Beauty
i'm looking for a love
NAMES, PLACES, US
Govern Yrself Accordingly
all that's black ain't brother
even death will not stop me from struggling
...AND RAISE BEAUTY TO ANOTHER LEVEL OF SWEETNESS