Poetry series brings African American poets to McLeod Plantation to illuminate the experience and legacy of American slavery

Marilyn Nelson

James Island Arts Council, in collaboration with Charleston County Parks & Recreation Commission (CCPRC), the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, the SC Humanities Council, and South Arts in partnership with the SC Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, announces its fifth presentation in the series Poetry at McLeod, featuring Marilyn Nelson.

The poetry reading and reception are at MPHS, 325 Country Club Drive, James Island, on Sunday, June 3, 2018, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. The reading and reception are free to the first 50 who come for poetry. CCPRC Gold Pass holders are encouraged to use their passes. Each Gold Pass provides four free entrances to the park. Additional guests will have to pay MPHS’s admission fee. After the reading, guests are invited on a guided tour of MPHS.

A free public poetry workshop taught by Ms. Nelson will take place Saturday, June 2, 2018 from 2:00-4:00pm at James Island Town Hall, 1238-B Camp Rd, Charleston, SC 29412. The workshop topic is “Memory and Imagination”, and is designed to appeal to the general public as well as students and expert poets. “Poems are made of memories and imagination,” says Ms. Nelson. “Sometimes when we don’t know what to write, we need look no farther than the person next to us. In this workshop, we will look at some poems based on memory, and have fun writing based on our own memories and those of others in the room. Writing and reading poetry is a great way to get to know ourselves and others better.”

Marilyn Nelson begins her visit to James Island on Friday, June 1, 2018, at 1:30 p.m., with a lecture at the Lowcountry Senior Center, 865 Riverland Drive, on the topic of poetry and empathy. This program is free and open to the public.

Marilyn Nelson, daughter of a Tuskegee Airman and finalist for several National Book Awards, has composed extensively on the lives of African Americans, including Emmett Till, George Washington Carver, and a slave named Fortune. Author or translator of seventeen poetry books and the memoir How I Discovered Poetry, her collections include The Fields Of Praise: New And Selected Poems, which won the 1998 Poets’ Prize; Carver: A Life In Poems, which won the 2001 Boston Globe/Hornbook Award and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award; and Fortune’s Bones, which was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and won the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. Nelson’s honors include two NEA creative writing fellowships, the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, a fellowship from the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Frost Medal. She was the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut from 2001-2006.

McLeod Plantation Historic Site, owned and operated by CCPRC, is an important Gullah heritage site preserved for its cultural and historical significance. MPHS is keen to create opportunities for dialogue regarding slavery and its legacy on James Island and beyond. The reading will take place under the McLeod Oak, near the kitchen-house and the owners’ quarters, consistent with McLeod’s history as an outdoor cotton factory.

This innovative series is the first and only project in the nation to bring African American poets to a plantation site to illuminate the experience and legacy of American slavery. The series focuses on poets associated with Cave Canem: A Home for Black Poetry, an educational organization whose fellows include South Carolina’s recent National Book Award winners Terrance Hayes and Nikky Finney, and Pulitzer Prize winners Tyehimba Jess and Natasha Tretheway, who was also a Poet Laureate of the United States. Many of these poets create art based on their research into the lives of certain enslaved Americans.

Poetry at McLeod is funded by the SC Humanities Council, The Poetry Society of SC, the Town of James Island, and South Arts in partnership with the SC Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/jamesislandarts, www.jamesislandarts.org, or call 843-795-4141.

by Marilyn Nelson

My master/father sent me up from South
Carolina to Boston as a nine-year-old.
My mother’s illiterate silence has been a death.
I wonder if she still labors in his fields.
His sister, dutiful but cold as snow,
gave me a little room in her house, below
the stairs with the Irish servants, who hated me
for the fatal flaw in my genealogy.
For the first time in my life I am at home
in this bevy of scholars, my first family.
Here, the wallpapers welcome me into every room,
and the mirrors see me, not my pedigree.
My sisters, Jerusha, Emilia, Elizabeth …
But Mama’s unlettered silence is a death.

Marilyn Nelson, “Family” from Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011. Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Nelson. Reprinted by permission of Marilyn Nelson.

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