In this episode of “Literary Arts: The Archive Project,” Cornelius Eady begins this lecture from 2002 by reading an excerpt from his memoir “about the period of my life before I actually even considered I might be a poet, which is probably from about 5 or 6 years old until I became about 12 or 13.” The passage describes his first poetry lesson at school, specifically how dreadful the very idea of poetry was for him at that age. He then reads a number of poems about his youth: one, “The Woman,” describes his adolescent disdain for his father; another, “Rituals,” describes the burial of his childhood pet; another, “Sanctified,” describes the shock he felt as a child when first taken to his mother’s “Black church.” Each poem is a vignette of a different rite of passage, drawing the profound moment out the quotidian details of a modern childhood. Eady closes with poems from Running Man and Brutal Imagination, two poetry cycles that confront the issues of race in America. The Running Man cycle was adapted for the theater by Eady and Diedre Murry, and Eady also touches on the process of writing for the theater.
Cornelius Eady is the author of eight books of poetry, including “Hardheaded Weather” (Putnam 2008). His second book, “Victims of the Latest Dance Craze”, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985. In 2001, “Brutal Imagination” was a finalist for the National Book Award. His work in theater includes the libretto for an opera, “Running Man,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1999. His play “Brutal Imagination” won Newsday’s Oppenheimer award in 2002. In 1996 Eady co-founded the Cave Canem summer workshop/retreat for African American poets with writer Toi Derricotte. More than a decade later, Cave Canem is a thriving national network of black poets, as well as an institution offering regional workshops, readings, a first book prize, and the summer retreat. Eady has been a teacher for more than 20 years and is now a professor at Notre Dame University.