This Vermont poet is a Seattle institution...
This Vermont poet is a Seattle institution... Courtesy Rajnii Eddins

When Rajnii Eddins moved from Seattle to Vermont 12 years ago, I felt that this city had lost a big part of its culture. His mother, Randee Eddins, founded the African American Writers Alliance, an organization I became involved with during the first half of the 1990s. When I taught literature to high school students at Seattle Central College in the second half of the 1990s, the best mind in the class was undoubtedly Eddins'. Indeed, he read to the class the whole of Zora Neale Hurston's ebonics-rich Their Eyes Were Watching God flawlessly. They understood him, and he understood the novel.

In the '00s, Rajnii Eddins was a member of a rap group that's woefully under-appreciated but very influential in its day: 500 Years—as in, 500 years of slavery. He also made guest appearances on a number of 206 records, one of which is Gabriel Teodros' soulful and beautiful Lovework. He also commanded one of the greatest 206 hiphop tracks ever produced, Helladope's cinematic "Mind Shiftin":

The Eddins had a home near downtown Renton that rose above and viewed the Renton Municipal Airport. The events they held at this location drew artists of every stripe. The two were a cultural institution. They were also finalists in Stranger's Gong Show (if my memory serves me correctly). According to Teodros (whose memory I trust), a former member of 500 Years and presently a KEXP DJ, the Eddins also organized a Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute series, the Poetry Experience, that had a massive impact on 206 hiphop. (According to Teodros' recall, Macklemore learned how to rap there.)

Then the Eddins moved to Vermont. What a loss of talent. But Rajnii Eddins is back to read new poetry at Wa Na Wari tonight and also this Saturday, April 23, at the same venue.

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