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New monograph on the life and works of Kresge Eminent Artist Melba Joyce Boyd available now


The words of Melba Joyce Boyd “roar in remembrance … to make you hear the lessons of injustice and the workaday heroes who in their resistance, their survival, keep culture moving,” says writer Nichole Christian in the newly released monograph on the life and art of the 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist.

The orange cover of the Book of Melba and the text: Now Available 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist Monograph featuring Melba Joyce Boyd“The Book of Melba” surveys the life and work of Boyd, an award-winning poet, essayist, biographer, editor, distinguished professor and filmmaker who was announced in January as the year’s recipient of the award which spotlights the contributions of singular metro Detroit artists whose dedication to their craft and commitment to the community have elevated their chosen genre and significantly deepened Detroit’s cultural footprint.

Boyd is the 15th recipient of the award, which comes with a $50,000 cash purse, the production of a short video by Kresge Arts in Detroit, the award administrators, and the production of the monograph by The Kresge Foundation, which funds Kresge Arts in Detroit for the Eminent Artist initiative as well as the selection of 30 Kresge Artist Fellows and Gilda Awards.

The Boyd monograph, “The Book of Melba,” was launched Thursday evening at Detroit’s Gem Theatre with a performance by Boyd in collaboration with a jazz trio and remarks by Kresge Detroit Program Managing Director Wendy Lewis Jackson and College for Creative Studies President Don Tuski.

The monograph is available for order at no cost while supplies last and for download in perpetuity.

The monograph was created by Kresge’s External Affairs and Communications Department in collaboration with creative director-editor-lead writer Christian and graphic designer-art director Edward Ryan. Christian has been creative director for the Kresge Eminent Artist monographs since 2019.

Melba Joyce Boyd Sound Stories The Kresge Foundation 6 tracks 15:49This year’s monograph includes an introductory essay by Christian; a lengthy oral history-style interview with Boyd; a selection of Boyd’s poetry, essays and other writings; a career overview and a selected guide to her work. The physical book is complemented by online audio segments accessed through QR codes.

Speaking at the monograph event, Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of Kresge’s Detroit Program, spoke about one of the city’s current challenges, the redevelopment of I-375, construction of which marked the final stage in the destruction of the city’s historic Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhoods.

“We need more than the facts of history to face this challenge and the many others like it,” she said. “It is only with a touch of history that we can feel and understand and step beyond the facts of history and bring ourselves into the story.”

Boyd, she continued, as a storyteller steeped in the city, “brings something special to the conversation.”

College for Creative Studies President Donald Tuski ticked off a number of Boyd’s awards and academic positions and achievements and praised her “extraordinary service to the city of Detroit.”

Said Tuski: “The world needs and wants more creativity, more poetry, more justice, more honesty and more Dr. Boyd’s – please.”

During the program, Boyd performed poems with pianist Rod Williams, with bassist Marion Hayden and the trio of Williams, Hayden and drummer Tariq Garner. With Hayden, she appropriately performed the poem “The Bass Is Woman,” which is dedicated to Hayden, a 2016 Kresge Artist Fellow. Vocalist Shahida Nurrulah wowed the crowd performing with the trio for a number of tunes, including Thelonious Monk’s classic “Ugly Beauty” and Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away.”

Describing the ambition of the monograph, Christian said, “As an editor, poet, biographer, scholar, essayist, Melba Joyce Boyd has a multifaceted legacy. But the threads have never been tied together and a lot of her work isn’t easily found. Instead of trying to say something singular, we saw a sweeter opportunity in trying to mirror the very way Melba lives life. Always many things at once.”

See the complete list of Kresge Eminent Artists, videos and monographs: Celebrating 15 years of artistic excellence, mentoring and community involvement

Kresge Eminent Artists Bill Harris, Shirley Woodson, Melba Joyce Boyd, Gloria House and Leni Sinclair pose in front of a poster honoring 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist Melba Joyce Boyd in the lobby of the Detroit Gem Theatre.
Kresge Eminent Artists Bill Harris (2011), Shirley Woodson (2021), Melba Joyce Boyd (2023), Gloria House (2019) and Leni Sinclair (2016) celebrate at the 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist monograph event. (Photo by Cybelle Codish)