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Upcoming events celebrate legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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The University of Southern Maine will host a public dialogue on the essence of liberty and race in America, featuring four renowned writers and instructors with the Stonecoast MFA program.

The Jan. 12 talk, titled "The Task Before Us," features Stonecoast faculty members Amanda Johnston, Aaron Hamburger, Porochista Khakpour and guest JJ Amaworo Wilson.

The event will honor Martin Luther King Jr and contribute to USM's year-long Gloria S. Duclos Convocation: Race and Participatory Democracy. The issues will be viewed through the lens of creative writing and the artist's role in the community. Each writer/instructor will read a short piece before the conversation begins. A Q&A session will follow.

The free 7 p.m. event is scheduled for the Harraseeket Inn, located at 162 Main Street in Freeport.

Amanda Johnston's poetry and interviews have appeared in numerous online and print publications, among them, Kinfolks Quarterly, Muzzle, Pluck! and the anthologies, Small Batch, di-ver-city and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South. Her most recent book, "Another Way to Say Enter," came out in 2017. Amanda is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, a Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of the board of directors, co-founder of Black Poets Speak Out, and founding executive director of Torch Literary Arts.

Aaron Hamburger is the author of "Faith for Beginners" and the prize-winning short story collection,"The View from Stalin's Head." His stories, essays, creative non-fiction and more have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Poets & Writers, Tin House, Subtropics, Details, Crazyhorse, Boulevard, and many others. He recently published an essay entitled, "My Grandmother, the Undocumented Immigrant."

Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area. Author of award-winning books "Sons and other Flammable Objects" and "The Last Illusion," her work has appeared in Harper's, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, the Village Voice, and the Chicago Reader among many others.

JJ Amaworo Wilson was born in Germany, the son of a Nigerian mother and an English father, but grew up in the UK. He writes poetry, and has published stories about social justice issues in black communities in numerous journals and anthologies. His novel, "Damnificados," was published by PM Press in January 2016. It has since won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, and made it onto Oprah's Top 10 Books to Read Now List.

Another event — Kennebunk's 15th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast on Jan. 15 — will feature vocals and piano by USM alumnus Warren McPherson. McPherson, of Portland, hails from Jamaica. After winning a prestigious scholarship to study piano in Alberta, Canada, he completed his studies in Jamaica then in 2009 came to the University of Southern Maine, where he excelled in piano performance.
He tours nationally, plays in several bands, and is music director of the Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland. Tickets to the 8:30 a.m. event are being sold online at