Prolific poet, scholar, filmmaker, and editor Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd has been chosen as the 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist. The annual award celebrates the lifetime achievements and contributions of one metro Detroit artist. Its recipient demonstrates a record of exceptional work, professional achievement in the arts, significant impact on their chosen art form, and generous contributions to the growth and vibrancy of Detroit’s cultural landscape.
Dr. Boyd is an award-winning author and editor of 13 books, nine of which are poetry. “Death Dance of a Butterfly” received the 2013 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry. “Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall” received the 2010 Independent Publishers Award, the 2010 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry, and was a Finalist for the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the 2010 ForeWord Award for Poetry.
She wrote the official poem for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which is inscribed in the museum’s dedication wall. She has received service awards from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, The Women’s Committee at the Wright Museum, and the International Institute of Detroit.
Dr. Boyd is the 15th artist to receive the Kresge Eminent Artist title. In addition to the $50,000 prize, the Kresge Eminent Artist Award includes the creation of a short film—which debuts in the spring—and the creation of a monograph that will be published in fall 2023.
“The one thing that’s great about this award,’’ Dr. Boyd explains, “is that you don’t apply for it. You’re getting real appreciation for your work from people who understand what it means to make work in Detroit. That’s something special. It’s a reminder and celebration of the culture we have here and the way that it continues.’’
Each year, the Kresge Eminent Artist is selected by a panel of esteemed metro Detroit artists and arts professionals.
“It wasn’t easy. We looked at lots of amazing artists. But when it came down to it, we all felt that she was the most deserving this year,’’ says Grace Serra, Art Collection Curator for Wayne State University and 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist Selection panelist. “This is not just art for art’s sake. The quality of the work she’s done and the continued relevance is important. It’s about social justice and honesty. And she’s fierce. She hasn’t mellowed with age. You can tell there’s still more to be said.’’
Dr. Boyd has over 100 published essays which have appeared in anthologies, academic journals, cultural periodicals, and newspapers in the United States and Europe. Her poetry has been translated into German, French, and Italian. She has given poetry readings and lectures on African American literature and culture throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa.
Kresge Eminent Artist selection panelist Scheherazade Washington Parrish shares, “She’s exactly an eminent artist. Her words have touched people in Detroit and abroad, and she maintains a love for the craft. One of the ways that that love is seen is by her continuing to teach so that the craft and art lives on to inspire others.’’
Dr. Boyd is a Distinguished Professor at Wayne State University in the Department of African American Studies and an adjunct professor in Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She was a visiting professor at the Fudan University in the Republic of China, and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bremen in Germany. She was a professor at the University of Iowa, the Ohio State University, and the director of African American Studies at the University of Michigan in Flint. She served as chair of the African American Studies department at Wayne State University for 16 years.
Dr. Boyd recently added a Spirit of Detroit Award to her lengthy list of honors. She was presented with the award by Councilman Coleman Young II during this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the Wright museum.
“You don’t do the work for recognition or prizes or any of these things,’’ Dr. Boyd says. “But it’s sweet when you get them; I ain’t giving it back.’’