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Poetry that Uncovers America’s Slaveholding Past 

By Hiram Larew:

Historic Woodlawn Plantation in Northern Virginia, USA, was built in 1805 by relatives of George Washington on property that he owned. In its heyday, Woodlawn was home to 9 white individuals who were served by 90 enslaved people.

In 2019, I took a week-long writer’s residence (sponsored by The Inner Loop) at Woodlawn. I invited African-American friends/poets to join me there for a day of reflection. 

The result was an amazing outpouring of poetry, artwork, and music that, over the last years, we’ve presented as a program called Voices of Woodlawn, both locally and across the world via Zoom. In the program, we imagine the tragedy of slavery at Woodlawn, as well as at most all of America’s historic plantations. But, just as significantly, we also explore the impact of slavery’s legacy on our lives today.  

Here is one of the recorded 1-hour programs:

The artwork below, titled Royalty, was created by Voices of Woodlawn artist and poet Diane Wilbon Parks.  

Royalty by Diane Wilbon Parks

Here is an excerpt from one of the Voices of Woodlawn poems by Sylvia Dianne Beverly, aka Ladi Di:

Mama Oh Mama

By Ladi Di (c) 4-14-21

Mama! Is Master gonna sell you 

from us today?

Mama! I surely pray not,

cause I don’t know what me and Nettie 

Clisstie and Jimmy would do, 

would do Mama, without the 

comfort of your touch and the 

sweetness of your voice.

Oh Mama we would be sad, 

Sadder than sad, so sad Mama 

if we didn’t have you.

Here’s what one viewer said about Voices of Woodlawn:

Through incredibly eloquent and powerful words, the four poets gave voice to the Woodlawn slaves who were forgotten and invisible. Accompanied by a harmonicist who passionately played his instrument, the performance was a prime example of the special relationship between words and music. I highly recommend the Voices of Woodlawn program.

Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram, Host and Producer

To contact Voices of Woodlawn, email us at


Hiram Larew

Hiram Larew founded the informal Poetry X Hunger initiative in 2017 as a way to bring two areas of interest—poetry and hunger prevention—together. Upon retiring from the U.S. Department of Agriculture where he helped guide international agriculture programs, he noticed that relatively little poetry about hunger was available. Believing in the power of poetry to touch hearts and minds, he launched Poetry X Hunger as a way to encourage poets to write about hunger.

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