2010 National Book Award Finalist,
One with Others
Copper Canyon Press
Interview by Jean Hartig
Jean Hartig: To borrow a question from your text, what spurred you to get involved, to investigate the story of your heroine, V, and the larger story of the history of racial injustice in the Arkansas Delta?
C. D. Wright: I wanted to write about a good friend, a woman who died, in her early seventies in Hell’s Kitchen. When I met her, she was in her mid-thirties and I was in my teens. She was a giant of my imagination, an autodidact, deeply literary, an outraged citizen, a killingly funny, irresistible human. I ended up writing more about the place where she lived and a particular time during which she involved herself in some civil rights actions. I think everyone who lived through that period has a footnote to contribute.
JH: The repetition of images, facts, voices in the text was thrilling--what compelled you to repeat certain frames, if you will, of the story?
CDW: I was drawing down on whatever I had at my disposal to make the whole thing move without succumbing to telling a proper story.
JH: How did you navigate the sometimes precarious terrain of “giving voice” to others, some of whom have been silenced or whose stories have been marginalized by social and political forces?
CDW: I don’t presume to be giving voice to marginalized others. Almost everything and everyone I care about is on a margin. I am one of its voices. Not everyone has the means to or intention of nailing their particular perspective down in words. I was equally chary of using or not using actual names. People are uneasy even about being fictively represented since they do not experience themselves speculatively. Also, in a small town, everything can be so freighted even after a span of time—especially if the focus turns on a very charged time.
JH: How did the state of the nation, the present (or then-present) cultural moment, affect the writing of One With Others?
CDW: The last book I wrote, Rising, Falling, Hovering, was largely focused on the second Gulf war. This text is situated in the late sixties. It is hard to write anything that does not coincide with a major crisis. We write from the mess. The state of things does not have to be your subject to be dragged in. More lyric writers have other ways of contending, of reflecting back their time. Every poet I know is trying to write their way through the vortex of discourses, and moreover, to write against a massive sense of helplessness.
Jean Hartig is the author of a poetry chapbook, Ave, Materia, and the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.