“Imani’s Smile”
(pastel, pencil, and Watercolor; 2017)

One of the gratifyingly surprising aspects of this past year (and I’ll be the first to admit that there have been a few which were anything but pleasing or gratifying) is my having sorta-accidentally made friends with Jaki Shelton Green and her husband, Abdul.

Jaki is, of course (just google her name) a highly acclaimed and duly-awarded/acclaimed poet/writer/educator/activist. I’ve known her work for at least 20 years, since I first heard her on NPR, reading her arresting poem about “The Hatness”. Even at that time, I thought “Oh…I should know this woman….”……but I was busy being a waiter/gradstoodint in those busy days. Even then, though, I knew when I had encountered a poet who was lyrical and fierce at the same time (rather obviously, she and I make entirely different sorts of art…..but shes astoundingly good at what she does)

She is, indeed, a wonderful teacher…..as I know full-well from a couple of anecdotes she’s told me over the past year. I was a teacher, myself, for years, so I recognize the matter when I’ve encountered a truly great one. I should emphasize that she never tells a tale of her teaching-moments with the slightest hint of self-congratulation……which is undoubtedly why she is a fine teacher and guide.

I’m very-very glad that she and I have arranged for her to hold at least some of her writer’s workshops for women here at the Webb House. I will be very glad to just go sleep at my friend’s Bob house while Jaki fills this old house and puts it to good use.

She brought me a couple of her books as a gift when she and Abdul came for lunch a few weeks ago. A few nights later, I was talking to her on the telephone (and, yes, she IS one of those folks about whom I feel guilty when I call them and take up their time….but she’s always kind and generous). She told me about an encounter she’d had with a little girl (Jaki does a lot of work as a writer-in-residence at the public schools) whose name she had mis-pronounced. It was a really lovely story,….quite in contrast to all the other stories and news I’ve read or heard lately.

I’ve thought, over the past month or so, that I wanted to give Jaki a present for that story (which I’ve thought of often since she told it to me). In short?….she’s simply one of those folks who gives so much that you suddenly feel the need to give her something in return. Simple fact.

At my usual risk of over-stepping, I decided to paint her daughter, Imani….who died all-too-young a few years ago. Jaki’s knows that I’ve been doing this, and I hope it gives her as much pleasure/comfort (hard to decide on the “right” word, actually) as I’ve gotten from my surprisingly frequent conversations with her over the past few months.

to learn more about Jaki, please do yourself a favor and go to the following link: