Last week Verse Wisconsin published an essay by Lexington, Kentucky-based author Bianca Spriggs entitled “Home is Where the Art Is: Writing as Community.” A member of the Affrilachian Poets, Cave Canem fellow, author and multidisciplinary artist, Spriggs is the author of Kaffir Lily (2010), How Swallowtails Become Dragons (2011), and the director of the short film, Waterbody (2011). This recent essay calls attention to the role of Cave Canem in providing a creative and nurturing place for black writers, learning how, as she says, to “glean for inspiration,” and the importance of writing workshops in building and sustaining community through the written word.
Writing from the Hindman Settlement School in historic Hindman, Kentucky, Spriggs recently served as an administrator with the young writers conference “The Twenty: A Kentucky Writers Advance.” Created by poet Nikkey Finney (recent winner of the National Book Award for her collection of poems, Head Off & Split), the conference brings together young writers from around the state who are serious, Briggs writes, “about maintaining a relationship with writing throughout their lives whether they plan on becoming full-time writers or share their art with another passion or calling.” She describes the setting this way:
It is yet June and the temperature is already rising into the high nineties. James Still’s cabin resides on this land as does his final resting place. There are copperheads, silkworm moths, elk, and brushfires in this area, and until recently, the water was a clay color and undrinkable from the tap (a casualty of mountaintop removal) before the city decided to draw this precious resource from another reservoir. Every year, writers and readers of every age descend upon this campus to inspire and be inspired.
As her essay moves forward, Spriggs ruminates on her early days as a writer—being drawn to “wordsmithing,” her long held conviction of the connection between art and activism, and memories of an early reading at the Federal Prison Camp. Looking around Hindman, seeing something of herself in these young writers, she thinks back on her first writing workshop at Cave Canem: a home for black poets:
Why is this important? Cave Canem was specifically geared towards not just people of color, but black poets. It was supremely refreshing and a luxury even, to be immersed in an environment where so many of the cultural references my poems and personality are often infused with were a given. This was very important for me at a time when my writing consisted of exploring strong themes of identity. In past experiences, there might be one or two other people of color, sometimes another black poet, in the same workshop. Although UW-Milwauke delivered consistently rewarding workshop-mates and professors, it just didn’t feel so lonely to be in Cave Canem. Also, because of the model of writing a poem a day, that really sort of opened up my world in terms of the relationship between inspiration and self-discipline. I had previously always thought that poems just sort of dropped in your lap like ripe fruit. Cave Canem taught me to bring a ladder to the orchard and how to glean inspiration. And not just how to glean, but to take the initiative to decide to look in the first place rather than wait. An important lesson.
Spriggs essay reminds us of the power of writing as community and the importance and the importance of these workshops as places where writers to learn to, as Spriggs says “value their craft.”
You can her essay on the Verse Winsconsin site here. And be sure and check out her site here.