A rural remembrance


The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society wants to take everyone back to when Howard County was mostly rural and horses made way for the occasional car.

It also was the time of poet Sterling A. Brown's childhood, so HoCoPoLitSo is sponsoring "An Afternoon in Sterling Brown's Howard County" on Sunday at the historic Stephens' Mansion.

The event - which also celebrates the county's sesquicentennial - will honor Brown, a poet and former Howard University professor who lived from 1901 to 1989. While growing up, he spent some weekends and vacations at a Howard County family farm near today's North Laurel.

Brown was known for his straightforward style and as a champion of the rural vernacular. His ties to Howard County came to the attention of HoCoPoLitSo President Ellen Conroy Kennedy more than 20 years ago.

"I met him in 1966, but we didn't find out about this connection until 1980," she said. "He was asking where Whiskey Bottom Road was."

Kennedy said that for HoCoPoLitSo's 20th anniversary in 1994, the organization solicited a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council to find the site of the farm in land records. Joetta Cramm, a county historian, said she found a site of about 100 acres near Route 216 and Interstate 95 that was once the Brown family farm.

"You could not go today and say, 'Oh, here is where the farm was' exactly," Cramm said. "Much of it has been covered by I-95."

Still, Kennedy said, her organization wants to honor the tie between the county and the man considered by some to be one of the nation's premier poets.

Sunday's event will include poetry readings and reminiscences by former state Sen. James Clark Jr. and two former students of Brown's, Timothy L. Jenkins and National Book Award winner Lucille Clifton.

Jenkins, a management consultant with a Washington firm, said Brown "added to the normal classroom with the accessibility to his home and the after-hours kind of nonstructured lectures on the lawn."

"Every space that he occupied was a classroom," said Jenkins, who later in life became Brown's attorney and executor of his will. "We came to appreciate his multimedia approach. He not only taught us using the written word in print, but also as it appeared in speech, dialogue and recordings."

Clifton, who last year won the National Book Award for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1998-2000," said she was flattered when, while she was as a student at Howard University in the mid-1950s, Brown took an interest in her writing.

"He had a group that met in his apartment in Washington, D.C., in a kind of writers workshop," Clifton recalled. "It's amazing that they considered a kid like me to be a part of that group."

Brown was an amazing talent, she said. "He was an exciting and an interesting man. He tried to elevate what seems to be ordinary to mythic, using the language of people's plain talk."

Clark, whose family came to Howard County from Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1797, will speak on the area's history. "An Afternoon in Sterling Brown's Howard County" will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased by calling 410-730-7524.

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