In Memory of Akilah Oliver

A Note from Rachel Levitsky

Then I command the stage again, as embodied activism this time            a gone time
from a before then if so therefore without pretense            this phrase, this constituent,
this color lily I’ve never seen before            a calculated blue.
(from The Putterers Notebook)

We have just learned that our beloved friend, poet, teacher, performer, activist, mother, sister, Akilah Oliver passed away in her home in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Akilah Oliver was born in 1961 in L.A. In the 1990’s she founded and performed with the feminist performance collective Sacred Naked Nature Girls. For several years, Akilah lived and raised her son Oluchi McDonald (1982-2003) in Boulder, Colorado where she was a teacher at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac  School of Disembodied Poetics.  Recently, in New York City, Akilah taught poetry and writing at Eugene Lang College, The New School, Pratt Insitute and The Poetry Project.  She was a PhD candidate at The European Graduate School and a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative.

Akilah Oliver’s books include A Toast In The House of Friends (Coffee House 2009) the she said dialogues: flesh memory, a book of experimental prose poetry honored by the PEN American Center’s “Open Book” program, and the chapbooks An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet (Farfalla, McMillan & Parrish, 2004), The Putterer’s Notebook (Belladonna 2006), “a(A)ugust” (Yo-Yo Labs, 2007) and A Collection of Objects (Tente 2010). She read and performed her work throughout the country as a solo artist and with a variety of musicians and collaborators including Tyler Burba, Anne Waldman and Rasul Siddik. She was a artist in residence at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Los Angeles, and received grants from the California Arts Council, The Flintridge Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Among her many other projects, she was writing a book-length theory of lamentation.

Information about services and memorial will be forthcoming.

Rachel Levitsky is the founder and co-director of Belladonna*, an event and publication series of feminist avant-garde poetics. Her latest book of poetry is Neighbor (2009, Ugly Duckling Presse).

An excerpt from A Toast in the House of Friends by Akilah Oliver (2008)


often now when i imagine life i think of what should
be finite, the guise of limitability, the desire for stop

are there greeters there [are you one] when we former ghosts arrive

is this sea deceptive, as if alive or an                 actor, the world masked

in my own way there was a time when i stumbled over a tense: says/said
now, bereft, in anticipation of how night collapses
into its own effluence i conjugate occasions, ask just for time, just a little time,
to get love right


14 Responses to In Memory of Akilah Oliver

  1. Larry Hudson says:

    I knew of Akilah (Donna) Oliver back in the late 70s. She was a writer then and always has been. Knew her sisters Marcia and Dee when they were both kids. Mrs. Oliver was the one that always would make a person feel welcomed. We will all miss Akilah, her son and her mom and that house on the corner on the corner that held so much love.

  2. Michael Ferrington says:


    just googled you hoping to find some new words from you, thank you for the infinity in those you left. I am proud to think that I was maybe your student for a short while. Thank you for proving to me I was worth a damn.

  3. sean nolan says:

    I knew her briefly in Boulder 1994-96 and saw the genius there too. I am saddened and feel grief also. I heard of this through another Boulder Naropa poet Bil Brown from kentucky.

  4. Crystal says:

    Dear Sweet Akilah Life is more potently harmonized and charged with life everlasting from the presence of your spoken utterances for life eternal… we are Rich because you chose to lace words with Power and light..light…light…light.

    Momma I am missing you not because my aim is off.
    Oluchi and Akilah Peace n eternity.

  5. peter cole says:

    I was blessed to know akilah and oluchi in the 90′s, and am doubly saddened to know they are both now gone. rest in peace, truly

  6. Rik Fire says:

    Beloved Spirit,

    I honour your fierceness. I honour your motherhood. I honour your womanhood. I honour the swirl of kaos of flesh memory we shared. I honour your prophetic presence. I honour your imprint on humanity and the generations to come. I honour you now, as you embrace Oluchi for eternity.

    Rev. Rik Fire

  7. Lol Fow says:

    Akilah was one of our dear Pratt colleagues, and her loss is terrible. Terrible.

  8. Peter Bushyeager says:

    Akilah Oliver will be missed. I was always struck by the subtlety of her work, her remarkable collaborations with musicians, and her quiet, committed, gentle way of moving through the world. Those who took her workshops tell me that she brought all of her gifts to bear and created a very special, supportive atmosphere that truly nutured people.

  9. Sandhya Luther says:

    I am so very saddened. Beautiful woman of courage.

  10. elena klaver says:

    blessings on your path, sister, leaving behind words and heart, all the hearts you touched. you are missed and loved.

  11. Sabrina Calle says:

    tell me what you see while i stay to miss you.

  12. clharlie mehrhoff says:

    i just loved her.

  13. leah Solo says:

    after akila left i became artist in residence at beyond baroque for a summer and then left to miami to continue akilas work with miami light project. She inspired me and my students without ever really knowing how her wokr lived in me. I am saddened by this news. may her books live on as her testament to truth, power, performance and activism.

  14. With gratitude and respect, ashay.
    loka sukino bhavantu.

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