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Taylorsville Journal

Accomplished poet and author delivered Salt Lake Community College's Commencement Address

Jun 06, 2023 12:38PM ● By Peri Kinder

Many years ago, Tara M. Stringfellow was a divorce attorney in Chicago, living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Lake Michigan with her husband and dog. It was the American dream. But Stringfellow was utterly miserable. 

So, she secretly applied for graduate school to study poetry as a profession. When she was accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at Northwestern University, she fell to her knees and cried. 

“[Poetry is] not necessarily known for its high employment, nor its high income levels, but I knew that I wanted to commit my entire life to writing,” she said to graduating students of Salt Lake Community College when she delivered the school’s commencement address on May 4 at the Maverik Center. “Because I was not writing, I did not feel as if I was living. I was not doing the one thing I believe I was put on this earth to do: tell good Black Southern stories.”

Now an accomplished poet and author, Stringfellow believes she has returned to where she started, when at an early age, she discovered a love for poetry and reading. It was Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” that captured her attention. When her father read her that poem, she knew she wanted to be a writer.

“My father, to this day, remembers laughing at me, at my fierce and sudden declaration of self and soul that, so help me, I would be a great American poet. Even greater than Poe,” she said. 

In 2008, Stringfellow published her first book, “More than Dancing.” It was a collection of poems exploring America's perspective on love, history and race relations. Her latest novel, “Memphis,” was named one of the Best Books of 2022 by Amazon and is longlisted for Aspen Words Literary Prize & Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Stringfellow challenged SLCC graduates to pursue their dreams, to follow their purpose and to believe in possibilities and hope, even in the face of adversity. 

“We all have dreams,” she said. “But the question in front of you graduates today is are you willing and able to hunt for yours? To pursue your dreams, until the edge of reason, to pursue your dreams even when your father or mother, your friends laugh at you, at your sudden declaration of self and soul?”

Stringfellow commended graduates for their resilience in these times of division and violence. As books are banned and civil liberties are diminished, she encouraged them to pursue happiness, even in a world filled with worry, danger and decline. 

She said the ingenuity of young graduates gives her hope as the people who will make this country into a more perfect union. College graduates have always been her “proof through the night that our flag was still there.”

“Your generation, this Class of 2023, will be the scientists and the doctors who solve cancer and Alzheimer's and a recent incurable diagnosis of mine, lupus,” she said. “You will be the politicians who finally declare that health care is an American, no, a human right. And you will be the poets and the writers and the actors who tell stories that will make old poets like me have to go back to the drawing board. And y’all will be the community organizers as well as the CEOs who make damn sure that oppressive systems of institutionalized racism are finally dismantled.”

 SLCC President Deneece G. Huftalin said she was honored and delighted that Stringellow shared her journey with the graduates who should find wisdom and hope in her words. 

“As our graduates enter the next chapter of their lives, I’m sure her lived experiences will resonate,” Huftalin said. λ

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