On this month’s very special program, host Katherine Hastings speaks with Cave Canem Fellow Cortney Lamar Charleston. His debut collection, Telepathologies, won the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, selected by D.A. Powell. In 2017, Charleston was a recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Lamar began writing and performing poetry as a member of The Excelano Project when he was an undergraduate studying economics and urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His poetry is described as a marriage between art and activism, and a call for a more involved and empathetic understanding of the diversity of the human experience. His academic background, coupled with his upbringing spent bouncing between Chicago’s South Side and its South and West suburbs influence his written work, grappling with race, masculinity, heteronormativity, class, family, faith and how identity is, functionally, a transition zone between all of these competing markers. Charleston’s poems have arrived at a time when we are reminded daily how important works like this are, as art, as a recording of history and as a call for change. From lyrics remixed from Kendrick Lamar and Tupak Shakur to Lucille Clifton and Barak Obama, from atrocities pulled from today’s news to what it means to grow up Black in America, these poems need to be read, must be heard, and then heard again.
“Cortney Lamar Charleston's poems testify in the eternal court of history; he speaks, as Aime Cesaire once did, "for miseries that have no mouth" and to liberate "those who languish in the dungeon of despair." Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner and nine slain members of Mother Emanuel AME Church―voices silenced through institutionalized racism and the unchecked power of hate―form the nucleus of this powerful indictment of an America still suffering the legacy of its slave-trading past. Timely, immediate, imperative; this is poetry from inside the center of the storm; an urgent and articulate call for change.” (D.A. Powell, judge of the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize)