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17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration: Keynote Address by Author and Multi-dimensional Performance Artist Junauda Petrus

January 15, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm EST

Author, creative artist, filmmaker, playwright, and multi-dimensional performance artist Junauda Petrus will be the special guest at Westport’s 17th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, to be held Friday, January 13, through Sunday, January 15, 2023. This celebration is hosted by The Westport Library, Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, and the Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy.

Please register HERE.
(Note: Registration is being managed by the Westport Country Playhouse, the location of the keynote event).

Petrus’ work centers around Black wildness, laughter, futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, spectacle, and shimmer. Her debut novel, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, received the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, and she is currently writing a screenplay adaptation of the book.Photo: Junauda Petrus posing with her left hand on her head and her right hand on her shoulder

The three-day celebration culminates on Sunday at 3 pm with a keynote address delivered by Petrus at the Westport Country Playhouse. Copies of her book will be available for purchase on-site, with Petrus signing copies after her address. The program will also include a dance performed by the Regional Center for the Arts.

Petrus’ work centers around Black wildness, laughter, futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, spectacle, and shimmer. Her debut novel, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, received the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, and she is currently writing a screenplay adaptation of the book

“While at The Westport Library, I will be grounding all of my offerings in the sacred force of sweetness, imagination, and creativity as foundational to our work in actualizing justice and healing in our world,” said Petrus. “This engagement will be filled with joy, playfulness, and connection, and will be an opportunity to replenish and warm our souls in the depths of winter.”

The Westport Martin Luther King Jr. celebration began in 2006 as an interfaith gathering coordinated by the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council and Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy. Since 2016, it has been hosted by those two organizations as well as The Westport Library, Westport Country Playhouse, and TEAM Westport.

More about Junauda Petrus:

Among her many accomplishments, Petrus wrote and directed There Are Other Worlds, an ancestral-circus-poem-play with a cast of Black women to tell the story of an activist who has spent the majority of her two teenage daughter’s lives incarcerated, and wrote, directed, and produced Sweetness of Wild, an episodic-poetic-film-series about  life after Prince, first queer love, police violence, and bike culture against the backdrop of Minneapolis.

She also performed in and co-wrote (with Erik Ehn) the puppet-gospel-musical Queen starring Laurie Carlos, served as the lead artist with the Heart of the Beast Theatre’s May Day Parade, and created and performed in her own experimental short film work, including Love TonesOut My Mind, and Erotics of Abolition.

As an aerial acrobat of the corde lisse (a hanging smooth rope), Petrus intertwined her background in West African and Afro-Caribbean dance and explored themes of Blackness, queerness, and wildness reclaimed and re-imagined in the vertical space.

Among her many honors, she received a Jerome Foundation grant to research queerness and African-inspired spiritualities in Trinidad and Tobago for her fiction and was named a 2016 City Pages Twin Cities artist of the year. Her stories and essays have been featured in anthologies including Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling GoodBody TalkHow I Resist, and the speculative fiction collection Tasting Light.

Her forthcoming children’s book, Could We Please Give The Police Department to the Grandmothers?, is based on her viral poem that imagines a radically positive future where love and healing are at the center of public safety and community well-being.

In addition, Petrus is the co-founder (with Erin Sharkey) of Free Black Dirt, an experimental artist collective based in Minneapolis that creates original performances and supports the emerging literary artists’ community.


Past Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Keynote Speakers

  • 2016: Quinnipiac Law School founder and Professor Marilyn Ford outlined the legal basis for Civil Rights legislation and progress over the past two centuries.
  • 2017: American Book Award winner and Brown Professor Tricia Rose detailed the stark reality of systemic racism’s impact in the U.S. through history to the present day.
  • 2018: Boston University professor, National Book Award winner, MacArthur Fellow, and Guggenheim Scholar Ibram X. Kendi introduced the concepts of anti-racism and being racist as a moment-to-moment dynamic versus a permanent condition.
  • 2019: Guggenheim Scholar and Emory University Professor Carol Anderson turned the myths of Black voter apathy and Black rage on their heads with her exposition of Black voter suppression and white rage from the nation’s beginning.
  • 2020: National Book Award winner and Yale Professor James Forman Jr. outlined the role of Black political leaders in the explosion of Black incarceration in the latter part of the 20th century.
  • 2021: New York Times best-selling author and social media sensation Layla Saad provided a powerful vehicle for looking internally to address the personal demons surrounding attitudes of white supremacy.
  • 2022: Color of Change Board Chair and New York Times best-selling author Heather McGheedetailed the self-defeating history of the national attitude that opposes the inclusion of benefits for people of color at all costs.

More Resources...

Martin Luther King, Jr

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Civil Rights Movement


January 15, 2023
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm EST
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The Westport Library
20 Jesup Road
Westport, CT 06880 United States
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