Andrews Hall in Lincoln, Nebraska

University of Nebraska-Lincoln students will soon be able to feel much closer to Africa through an online portal to the world of African poetry.

English professor Kwame Dawes is developing an online database for African poetry and artifacts. "The African Digital Portal" will launch in 2019 and will feature artifacts, newspapers and manuscripts related to African poetry, dating from the 19th century to the modern era.

Dawes will use a $150,000 grant from Ford Foundation, a private foundation that provides grants to organizations with projects to improve economy, creative arts and education. The foundation, he said, helps to promote initiatives taken by the African Poetry Book Fund to support African arts.

"The Ford Foundation has been supportive in recognizing the importance of [digitizing] African Poetry," Dawes said in an email. "The portal will provide a single place where one can learn a great deal about African poetry."

The African Poetry Book Fund was founded by Dawes in 2016 in order to advocate for the development and publication of poetry through collaboration with writers and scholars across the country. The organization is sponsored by UNL's Department of English, Ford Foundation and Prairie Schooner, a literary magazine published by UNL and University of Nebraska Press.

"The APBF is committed to creating an open-access platform which will allow scholars, poets and lovers of poetry to freely access the data that will be available on the portal," he said.

The project, currently in beginning development, includes listing poetry materials from African authors around the globe and organizing materials on specific regions of Africa, according to Prairie Schooner and Poetry Book Fund Managing Editor Ashley Strosnider.

Strosnider said she hopes to make the online database engaging for users. People will be able to click on African regional maps where they will be linked to poetry based on a specific region.

“We're trying to have more access, more interaction,” she said.  

Some African poetry literature and publications may not be accessible because of lack of language translation and location tracking, according to Strosnider.

"It’s cool to me because there is so much good work out there, and it's just a question of getting access people to it,” she said. “Like anything that's in a library that's hidden and not accessible.”

With the current project, she hopes the online database will provide centralized access to people who are interested in learning more about African poetry.

"The goals of digital humanities work, applying to what we're doing, is just broadening audience for it and getting it to more people who can then use it for more purposes,” Strosnider said.