Decatur Book Festival events feature African American poets whose papers reside at Emory

Emory Report | Sept. 17, 2020

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The Decatur Book Festival winds down with two events featuring poets with Emory connections: Kevin Young discusses African American poetry on Sept. 22 and Natasha Trethewey discusses her memoir, “Memorial Drive,” on Oct. 4. Both are former Emory professors who have placed their papers here.

There are two more Emory-related events at the 2020 virtual Decatur Book Festival featuring African American poets whose papers reside in Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 6:30 p.m., poet Kevin Young, who recently compiled and edited the upcoming anthology “African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song,” will discuss the range of voices in African American poetry, both in his own writings and as a scholar working on this anthology.

Young, a former creative writing professor at Emory and a former curator at the Rose Library who is now director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recently placed his papers with the Rose Library.

The Rose Library has a rich collection of African American poets’ papers, including several poets featured in Young’s new anthology, set for publication Oct. 20.

In addition to Young’s archives, highlights of Emory’s collections include the papers of Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Alice Walker, Phillis Wheatley, Nathaniel Mackey, Sarah E. Wright, Mari Evans and Owen Dodson. A general listing can be found here, or specific names can be entered in the finding aids search box on the Rose Library homepage

The depth and breadth of the Rose Library’s collections enable researchers and students to explore not only individual poets, but the relationships among them.

Take, for example, Young and fellow poet Tracy K. Smith, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012. Young and Smith met as Harvard undergraduates, became part of the Dark Room Collective — a community of African American writers founded in 1988 in Boston — and journeyed from rising talents to established poets.

Both recently chose to archive their papers at the Rose Library. The two poets hope their collections will benefit future scholars, whether that be instructional or inspirational. 

“I think one of the interesting things is waiting and seeing how people interact with the papers,” Young said when the acquisitions were announced. “I know from having seen Tracy’s papers, I was struck by her early work and seeing how she got to be the poet she is. Seeing that kind of development is really inspiring. I hope people find value in that and learn from that.”

Learn more: “Intertwining paths: The papers of Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young.”

Natasha Trethewey to close out festival 

Emory is the presenting sponsor for the AJC Decatur Book Festival, which kicked off Sept. 4 with a keynote by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Emory professor Jericho Brown. 

The endnote will feature poet and author Natasha Trethewey and interviewer Rosemary Magee for a discussion of Trethewey’s recent release, “​Memorial Drive​: A Daughter’s Memoir.”

Trethewey, former U.S. poet laureate and winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, is a former creative writing professor at Emory whose papers are in the Rose Library archives, where Magee was previously director. Yolanda Cooper, Emory dean and university librarian, will give the introduction.

The book wrestles with the South’s history through the lens of the author’s life and the life of her mother, who was murdered by Trethewey’s former stepfather. ​“Memorial Drive” dives deep into a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence, but also into the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse in the American South.