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Past Event The Black Ecstatic: An Evening of Poetry & Film

A mixed media artwork of a man with a spotted, green snake wrapped around his arm and around the back of his head. There are white flowers over the man's eyes. The snake is in front of the man's mouth with his mouth open, exposing his fangs. The background is mostly yellow, with some blue in some areas. There are yellow drops within the blue areas.

Devan Shimoyama, He Lies, He Cries, 2016, Courtesy of Joyce Varvatos and the artist

Three contemporary black poets, Airea D. Matthews, Roger Reeves, and Safiya Sinclair, and filmmaker Jamal T. Lewis will consider how “the ecstatic” functions in their artistic work and personal lives, within the context of the contemporary moment, where attention to black political and social life emphasizes death and unjustifiable violence. The program, which will include poetry performances, a brief film screening, and discussion, is organized and moderated by Rickey Laurentiis, the inaugural Fellow in Creative Writing at Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. This program is presented in conjunction with our Devan Shimoyama: Cry, Baby exhibition, curated by Jessica Beck, the Milton Fine curator of art at The Warhol.

Founded in 2016, Center for African American Poetry (CAAPP) at the University of Pittsburgh is a creative think tank for African American and African diasporic poetries and poetics whose mission is to highlight, promote, and share the poetry and poetic work of African American writers. The center’s programming aims to present exciting live poetry and conversation, contextualize the meaning of that work, and archive it for future generations, while also operating as space for innovative collaboration between writers, scholars, and other artists thinking through poetics as a unique and contemporary movement.

Rickey Laurentiis was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is the author of Boy with Thorn (2015), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Other honors include fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the Lannan Literary Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and the Poetry Foundation. Laurentiis’ poem, “Visible City,” opened Notes for Now, the catalogue for Prospect.3 New Orleans, curated by Franklin Sirmans. Laurentiis currently lives in Pittsburgh, and is the inaugural Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Jamal T. Lewis, b. 1990, is an emerging multidisciplinary artist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. Lewis resides in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. Named by Teen Vogue as one of the “coolest queers on the internet,” Lewis is also known as ‘fatfemme’, a moniker that encapsulates life at the intersection of fat and femme identity — “spaces that people are afraid to occupy,” she names. A graduate of Morehouse College and The New School, Lewis produces work around the body, specifically exploring and interrogating identity formation, race, gender, sexuality, desire, beauty, and ugliness. Lewis’s work has been featured in LA Times and New York Times.

Airea D. Matthews’ first collection of poems, Simulacra, received the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award (Yale University Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in Best American Poets 2015, American Poets, Four Way Review, The Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded a 2016 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Foundation Award, the 2016 Louis Untermeyer Scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts award as well as fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and the James Merrill House. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, her M.P.A. from the University of Michigan, and her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Matthews is working on her second poetry collection, under/class, which explores the behavioral and cultural ramifications of poverty. She lives in Detroit, Michigan, with her husband and four children.

Roger Reeves received an M.F.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas, Austin. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Best American Poetry, and the Indiana Review, among other publications, and he was included in Best New Poets 2009. Reeves was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2008; he is also the recipient of two Bread Loaf Scholarships and a Cave Canem Fellowship. In 2012, Reeves received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize for his poem “The Field Museum.” He is an Assistant Professor of Poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a 2014–2015 Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University. King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013) is Reeves’s first book.

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Addison M. Metcalf Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and selected as one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.” Cannibal was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, and longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Sinclair’s other honors include a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Granta, The Nation, New England Review, Boston Review, Oxford American, the 2018 Forward Book of Poetry, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.

Co-presented with Center for African American Poetry (CAAPP) at University of Pittsburgh.

Center for African American Poetry and Poetics


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