Monday, September 12, 2011

"Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?" by Cornelius Eady

For the last couple of years, I've been involved in a conversation on and off the blog about the representation of people of color in the publishing industry. This poem was posted earlier this year by the indispensable Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it more than anything else I've read or heard on this subject drove home to me the need for books that speak one's own language, where no translation is necessary, where one's life doesn't have to be justified or explained. 

Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?
by Cornelius Eady

Always the same, sweet hurt,
The understanding that settles in the eyes
Sooner or later, at the end of class,
In the silence pooling in the room.
Sooner or later it comes to this,

You stand face to face with your
Younger face and you have to answer
A student, a young woman this time,

And you're alone in the class room
Or in your office, a day or so later,
And she has to know, if all music
Begins equal, why this poem of hers
Needed a passport, a glossary,

A disclaimer. It was as if I were...
What? Talking for the first time?
Giving yourself up? Away?
There are worlds, and there are worlds,
She reminds you. She needs to know
What's wrong with me? and you want

To crowbar or spade her hurt
To the air. You want photosynthesis
To break it down to an organic language.
You want to shake I hear you
Into her ear, armor her life

With permission. Really, what
Can I say? That if she chooses
To remain here the term
Neighborhood will always have
A foreign stress, that there
Will always be the moment

The small, hard details
Of your life will be made
To circle their wagons?


  1. Cheryl, thank you for posting this superb poem.

  2. Amazing - Next steps are to infuse publishing with a process that will let those voices breathe, absent of a script that uses past literary examples as the litmus test.