SF State News {University Communications}

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First anthology of nature poetry from black voices debuts

November 30, 2009 -- In a groundbreaking anthology, Creative Writing Associate Professor Camille Dungy introduces readers to unique perspectives on the natural world. "Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry," is the first collection of poetry about the American landscape as told by black voices.

Book cover image featuring Gordon Parks' photo of a young boy with a June bug tied to a thread.

"Black poets can look at trees and see their grandeur or their function as sources of sustenance and shade, much like other American writers,” Dungy said. “But they also look at trees and see a dark source of horror."
Dungy, once a writer in residence at Rocky Mountain National Park, conceived the idea for the anthology during a teaching stint in semi-rural Virginia. On daily walks she took notes of the nature that intrigued her, including a tree that grew through the foundation of a public swimming pool. When she discovered that local residents had once filled the pool with dirt rather than allow it to be used as an integrated community pool, she began to think about nature poetry in a new context.
The anthology contains 180 poems by 93 poets over four centuries of American history. Poets represented range from Phyllis Wheatley, a slave educated by her owners during the 18th century, to celebrated 19th and 20th century writers and today’s emerging writers. The collection includes topics as varied as Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “haunted oak,” Major Jackson’s “zeal for chicory,” Audre Lorde’s “finished rooms of wax,” and Lucille Clifton’s roaches that march “not like soldiers -- like priests.”
Dungy’s poetry has garnered many literary honors including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.  Her second book of poetry, "Suck the Marrow," will be released in 2010. She will talk about the book and read selections at the Poetry Center on Dec. 3.
For more information about the anthology, visit the University of Georgia Press.

-- Denize Springer


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