Akilah Oliver (1961 – 2011)

Akilah OliverOur beloved friend, poet, teacher, performer, activist, mother, sister, AKILAH OLIVER has passed away in her home in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Akilah Oliver was born in 1961 in L.A. In the 1990’s she founded and performed with the feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls. For several years, from the mid-90's Akilah lived and raised her son Oluchi McDonald (1982-2003) in Boulder, Colorado where she was a teacher at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Recently, in New York City, Akilah taught poetry and writing at Eugene Lang College, 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 Press, 2009), the she said dialogues: flesh memory (Smokeproof Press / Erudite Fangs Editions, 1999), a book of experimental prose poetry honored by the PEN American Center’s “Open Book” program, 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 throughout the country as a solo artist and with a variety of musicians and collaborators including Tyler Burba, Anne Waldman, and Rasul Siddik. She was a artist in residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Los Angeles, and received grants from the California Arts Council, The Flintridge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Among her many other projects, she was writing a book-length theory of lamentation.

We are collecting funds for Akilah's funeral expenses and to support activity to keep the memory of Akilah and her work alive! These contributions are tax deductible and can be made through Ether Sea Projects.


Reading at Parachute: the Coney Island Performance Festival, September 2009.

When asked to read, Akilah created a poem especially for the festival using a woman's blog about Coney Island as her source text. The tape ran out before Akilah finished reading her poetry both in this video and in real life. It is strange when things work out that way. Akilah Oliver was a deeply treasured member of the literary community. We are grateful to have known Akilah and honored to have had her participate in the first Parachute Festival. She was a brilliant and beloved poet whose generosity of spirit will be missed by many. Thank you, Akilah. —The Parachute Festival

from In Aporia and The Stand Still World. San Francisco, 2007.

from The She Said Dialogues: Flesh Memories.

Commentary & News

• The New School announces The Akilah Oliver Award for Outstanding Experimental Poetry, which commemorates Akilah Oliver, a poet, performer, activist, and Eugene Lang College professor, whose courses challenged students not only to engage poetic texts but also the criticism and conversations that surround them.  This award recognizes a student poet at Eugene Lang College whose poetry has some of the features of Akilah’s writing and teaching.

Harryette Mullen: "The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be": Stretching the Dialogue of African-American Poetry

Kyle Bella for The Bilerico Project: Akilah Oliver & the Legacy of Grief. (February 4, 2012).

Laura Hinton's Dedication to Akilah Oliver: Archiving the Post-Human Future (September 11, 2011).

Laura Smith's essay "From Rupture to Remembering: Flesh Memory and the Embodied Experimentalism of Akilah Oliver"
This essay first appeared in MELUS: Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, issue 25.2 (Summer 2010), pages 103-120, and appears by permission of the journal. Copyright MELUS.

Diana Rickard on Akilah Oliver's memorial at the Poetry Project. (June 16, 2011).

The Best American Poetry: Cara Benson on Akilah Oliver. (June 14, 2011).

Three Words for You: Caitlin Scholl on Akilah Oliver for Sonic Eclectic. (May 6, 2011).

Lambda Literary Review's Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán remembers Akilah Oliver. (March 3, 2011).

Good Grief: Akilah Oliver's interview on Bomblog with Susie Ford. (August 26, 2009).

The Feminist Review's Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch on A Toast in the House of Friends. (May 14, 2009).

Twin Cities Daily Planet: Cosmopolitan toast: New poetry from Akilah Oliver. (March 30, 2009).

How2: Discussion of Akilah Oliver's she said dialogues: flesh memory. Rachel Levitsky and Tisa Bryant. (February 2000).

Online Work

Akilah Oliver's chapbook A Collection of Objects (Tente Press, 2010) is available to view online as a pdf.

Poets.org: "In Aporia" from A Toast in the House of Friends. (2009).

Trick House: from The Putterer's Notebook: an anti-memoir. (Issue 2, Fall 2008).

Chax Press: from Corruptions by Akilah Oliver in Eoagh journal. (Issue 3, 2007).

Author statement on The Tolerance Project Archive. (Originally writtin in 2005; Published online in 2010).

Memorials & Tributes

• In Aporia: The Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading with Nick Von Kleist, Krystal Languell, Wendy S. Walters, and Eileen Myles. The New School. New York. (September 19, 2012).

• In the Midst of Words I Wanted: A Tribute to Akilah Oliver with Julie Patton, Tonya Foster, Selah Saterstrom, and Danielle Vogel. AWP. Chicago. (March 2, 2012).

• In Aporia: The Annual Akilah Oliver Memorial Reading with Julian Brolaski, Rachel Levitsky, Lauren Nicole Nixon, Erik Freer, Karl Leone and Kaley Foley. The New School. New York. (September 12, 2011).

• Naropa University, Summer Writing Program. Boulder, Colorado. (June 17, 2011).

• The Poetry Project with Belladonna*. New York. (June 15, 2011).

• Working [class] Reading Series, An Akilah Oliver Celebration. Oakland, California. (June 3, 2011).

• 90-day upliftment ceremony held by Lou Florez. Denver, Colorado. (May 23, 2011).

• Naropa University. Boulder, Colorado. (April 17, 2011).

• Remembering Akilah. Los Angeles, California. (April 16, 2011).

• Midwest Naropa Writers & Red Rover Series at Outer Space Studio. Chicago. (April 8, 2011).

• Middle Collegiate Church. New York. (March 3, 2011).

• Nine-day upliftment ceremony held by Lou Florez. Denver, Colorado. (February 25 – March 5, 2011).

• Naropa University, Meditation. Boulder, Colorado. (February 25, 2011).

Akilah Oliver's Books & Chapbooks

A Toast In The House of Friends
(Coffee House Press, 2009)

the she said dialogues: flesh memory
(Smokeproof Press / Erudite Fangs, 1999)

A Collection of Objects
(Tente, 2010. View as a pdf)

(Yo-Yo Labs, 2007)

The Putterer’s Notebook
(Belladonna, 2006)

An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet
(Farfalla, McMillan & Parrish, 2004)


Get the most recent information on Akilah Oliver by following her Facebook page.