After the injury, she became a poet.And not just any poet. In 2015, Coste Lewis won the National Book Award for poetry with her debut anthology, “Voyage of the Sable Venus And Other Poems.” It’s a collection of biographical poems centered around an epic, 76-page meditation on the objectification of black women’s bodies by 40,000 years of Western Art. And it’s composed exclusively from the titles, catalog entries and exhibit descriptions Coste Lewis found in museums and libraries across the world. Coste Lewis set a number of rules for herself in writing the 76-page epic work. She expanded her definition of Western Art to include not only the paintings, sculpture and installations typically recognized by art historians, but also furniture and visual objects like buckles, spoons and table legs. She restored titles that had been modified for political correctness to their historically accurate slave, colored and Negro. And she laid out a few other guidelines. The project was inspired by an 18th-century painting that shares a name with the titular poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” It features a woman on a clamshell being pulled through the water by celestial beings.
The painting, explains Coste Lewis, was produced as pro-slavery propaganda. But in spite of the horrible historical weight of such a piece, Coste Lewis said she still finds the painting beautiful.Listen to Robin Coste Lewis’ full interview with Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller here.