Memorial Held for Beloved Profesor
On Wednesday, March 2, Eugene Lang College hosted a memorial service for Akilah Oliver, an adjunct professor of poetry who died on February 20. At the memorial students and teachers read from Oliver's work, which focused on explorations of grief as well as feminist activism. A table covered with lit white tea candles also featured copies of Oliver's experimental prose-poetry books, including "A Toast in the House of Friends" along with two vases of white roses in full bloom.
Alex Chasin, co-chair of the Literary Studies department, hosted the event. A number of students attended the memorial. Mia Bruner and Jamila Wimberly both read original works of poetry that reflected their relationship and experience with Oliver. Wimberly said that Oliver helped her cope with the death of a family member.
“Akilah was very special to me because she really taught me how to deal with grief,” said Wimberly.
Bruner also expressed admiration for Oliver, whom she encountered while interning at the Belladonna* Collaborative, a feminist writers' collective that Oliver worked with, and later in the Lang poetry department.
“Akilah was someone I was really in awe of, always,” said Bruner.
Rachel Zolf, one of Oliver’s friends and colleagues, now teaching in the Lang poetry department and studying in the MFA program, also spoke.
“[Oliver] radiated a confidence, intensity and vigor in her work that was truly infectious and inspiring,” she said.
Zolf read a poem of Oliver's that had strong undertones of feminist activism, adding to the emphasis on the activist lifestyle Oliver championed in her professional and personal life. Zolf praised Oliver’s influence in her communities. She said she was “an agent of change in the communities where she shared her energy, strength and wisdom.”
Julian Brolaski, a professor who teaches in the Reading NYC section of the first-year writing program at Lang, sought to find solace amid the tragic loss.
"We have her work,” he said. “Now we have to figure out how we can shepherd it.”