Photo of the Week: Carl Phillips Teaches at the Cave Canem Writers Workshops
This past Thursday Cave Canem held writers’ workshops in City of Asylum/Pittsburgh’s houses. That evening, they attended a reading by Colleen J. McElroy, Carl Phillips, Claudia Rankine, and Sapphire under a tent on Monterrey Street.
Using the five houses that COA/P renovated along Sampsonia Way, 54 African–American poets from all across the United States shared a sample of their writing with poets Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Ed Roberson, Phillips, McElroy, and Rankine. This was the third of a five-part series of workshops, most of them held at the University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg. Phillips, who ran a workshop for the second year in a row, was surprised by the outright enthusiasm of the poets he led.
The liveliness of the group was different this time because everyone remained at ease when critiquing each others’ work, despite their excitement, said the author of numerous books of poetry, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Professor of English, and of African and Afro–American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I try not to be prescriptive. I figure out what they are trying to say and explain how successful they were in relaying that message. This is a wonderful setting for the discussion and improvement of that message,” added Phillips.
Coming from New York, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Rickey Laurentiis, Carolyn Matthews, and Yalonda JD Green agree that the Cave Canem’s writing retreat helps them come together in a normally isolated discipline.
“To get these different perspectives helps me to be a stronger and more effective writer,” said Green.
“It’s an intergenerational community in terms of class, social status, and age,” said Matthews.
“You meet people who think similarly to you and this gives you a new sense of confidence….Especially because we are working with other black poets, added Laurentiis.
Participant Glenis Redmond, who is a performance poet, mother, and teacher from North Carolina, also felt a unique sense of community and solidarity while participating in Cave Canem’s workshops. “Writing a poem each day of the retreat helped me to improve my craft and gain a wide range of perspectives on my writing. You get a snapshot of your writing process in these couple days that you can’t typically capture,” said Redmond.
Kelly Harris, a staff member of the New Orleans based Afterschool Partnership, and Darrel Holnes, a current writer in fellowship at the University of Michigan, both enjoyed the atmosphere not only as a place to discuss their writing, but to help improve their careers.
“I found the tools you need to expand your craft,” said Harris. This will help her more clearly communicate the goals of the Afterschool Partnership and help keep libraries in New Orleans open, she added.
While Holnes hopes that fine-tuning his sense of voice at these workshops will help him write his first novel.
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