Akilah Oliver (1961-2011)

Akilah Oliver

The ceremony of sorrow is performed with a measured, defiant acknowledgement that makes words charms, talismen of the fallen world. Poetry is a holding space, a folded grace, in which objects held most dear disappear, returning as radiant moments of memory’s forgiving home.

Akilah Oliver @PennSound


from Rachel Levistsky / Belladonna

February 24, 2011


Then I command the stage again, as embodied activism this time               a gone time

from a before then if so therefore without pretense                        this phrase, this constituent,

this color lily I’ve never seen before                        a calculated blue.

(from The Putterer’s Notebook)


We have just learned that our beloved friend, poet, teacher, performer, activist, mother, sister, Akilah Oliver passed away in her home in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, N.Y.


Akilah Oliver was born in 1961 in Los Angeles. In the 1990s she founded and performed with the feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls. For several years, Akilah lived in Boulder, Colorado, where she raised her son Oluchi McDonald (1982–2003) and taught at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.  Recently, in New York City, Akilah taught poetry and writing at The New School, Pratt Institute and The Poetry Project.  She was a PhD candidate at The European Graduate School and a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative.


Akilah Oliver’s books include A Toast In The House of Friends (Coffee House, 2009), the she said dialogues: flesh memory, which received the PEN Beyond Margins Award, and the chapbooks An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet (Farfalla, McMillan & Parrish, 2004), The Putterer’s Notebook (Belladonna 2006), “a(A)ugust” (Yo-Yo Labs, 2007) and A Collection of Objects (Tente, 2010). She read and performed her work as a solo artist throughout the United States and collaborated with a variety of artists and musicians, including Tyler Burba, Anne Waldman and Rasul Siddik. She was an artist-in-residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Los Angeles, a curator of the Poetry Project’s Monday Night Reading Series, and received grants from the California Arts Council, The Flintridge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Among her many projects, she was writing a book-length theory of lamentation.


We feel this loss deeply, in all the communities where Akilah shared her energy, strength, life, wisdom and spirit. Information about services and memorial will be forthcoming.



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