Family Effort Produces Generations of Poems

Reflecting upon this past Father’s Day, Perita Pradia was ecstatic to be able to help make her own dad’s dream come true.

“There is no greater gift in my mind, then being able to do this for my father,” said Pradia, who works at the Army Logistics Management College.

Some long distance phone calls, a little traveling and collaboration culminated with a recent publication of family poems entitled “Generations of Poetry.”

Pradia said it was a life-long dream of her father to have his poems published, and with the gift of poetry circulating within the genealogy, it became a family affair.

“Everyone contributed something,” said Pradia. “Those who didn’t write poems, contributed money for publication fees, they provided mailing addresses for book lists, and most of all, our family supported the effort with their prayers and encouraging words. The long distance between us all could have been an obstacle to the project, but it actually kept us in close communication. This project rallied the family around a goal to bring a life-long dream to fruition.”

This was a dream of James A. Collier Jr., whom Pradia describes as a well-educated, socially-involved person from St. Louis, Mo.

“My dad was actually one of the first black schoolteachers in the St. Louis integrated school system,” said Pradia. “He taught music, and was very active in mentoring inner-city youth through music.”

Her father’s instrument of choice was trombone, but also played the saxophone, piano, violin and organ. A musician who played with big band entertainers at the St. Louis Powell Symphony Hall, Pradia said her father also founded Youngblood, Inc., a group of young inner-city musicians.

“They played with everyone from the O’Jays, Lou Rawls and Della Reese,” said Perita. “Most of the musicians went on to successful careers in music.”

Collier played with music legends such as Chuck Berry and Cannonball Adderly, but also associated with social activists.

“He was involved in a group called ‘Operation Family,’ with the goal of integrating the community on a social basis at a time when that was not socially acceptable,” said Pradia. “It was in the early ‘70s, and I remember them working very hard to bring families together, going into the communities and sharing time in each other’s homes. We were also involved in volunteer projects together, because my parents understood the importance of diversity.”

An already accomplished man, Pradia knew he still dwelled on that one unrequited dream of having his poetry published. He attempted to make good on that dream in 2004, having met with a publisher, but after his wife suffered a major heart attack, his priorities changed.

“My mother never recovered from that heart attack,” said Pradia. “My father was devastated and had to dig deep to face each day without her. They were married for 49 years and since the night of mom’s death, he hasn’t been quite the same.”

When her father passed along his writings to her, Pradia felt the urge to not take this inheritance lightly.

“I felt somewhat that I had become the caretaker of his innermost soul, and didn’t know exactly how to help it emerge,” she said. “I thought at that stage of his life, he feared having waited too long and never having shared his work with others.”

Pradia renewed her father’s contact with the publishing company, and family members worked on reviewing the contracts, typing and editing the manuscript, and making budget decisions. She described the work as tedious, as the months leading up to the publication in March was spent typesetting, editing and choosing the cover design.

“I spent many days talking to my father about his original work, as I did not want to change the meaning of any of the poems,” said Pradia. “I also did the same with my other family members. The entire process took about nine months.”

Their personal poems reflect profoundly on a mother recently passed, a grandmother she never knew and the dream her father lived to fulfill.

“My father’s work had been written over years of personal effort,” said Pradia. “The same is true for both poems I wrote. My niece, Tiffany Collier, contributed six poems and my brother, Howard, wrote a tribute to my mother, Noel Collier. The book ends with his tribute, “Mom’s Grocery Store.”

The artwork on the cover is an original painting of her father’s and the first poem in the book, “I Remember Mother,” is a personal tribute to his mother.

“It’s a wonderful poem because it gives me and my siblings a glimpse of a grandmother we never had a chance to know,” said Pradia. “My dad’s recollection of her is warm and heart-felt, as he recounts his childhood experiences watching “Mother.”

As her father’s health waned in recent months, Pradia worried that their efforts would be too late.

“There was a real sense of urgency to get it done,” said Pradia. “We paid the publishing company an additional fee just to expedite the process, otherwise it would have taken a lot longer. I’m glad he can finally see the end result. The most enjoyable part, without a doubt, was the excitement of seeing this book come to fruition.”