Writer’s Block: Cornelius Eady

by    /  April 9, 2020  / Comments Off on Writer’s Block: Cornelius Eady

In this Writer’s Block, recorded and taped in the summer of 2019, Cornelius Eady discusses his creative influences, his writing process, and how Cave Canem has evolved over the years. 

Interview by Rosa Williamson-Rea and Maggie Medoff. Video by Alexis Jabour. Editing by Kriti Sanghi. 

Q & A with Cornelius Eady  

What does it look like inside your imagination when you’re writing?

 [Laughs] You know, you said that, and I thought of the Bob Dylan song, “It’s all right, ma. I’m only bleeding” — the end of the song is, “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Or Prince,  “If a man is constantly guilty for what goes on in his mind, then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes.” Do you want to dwell in an artist’s head? I don’t know. I think there’d be long splashes… It’d be like being in a movie shoot, long stretches of tedium, and then flashes. [Laughs] The same thing people talk about when they’re in battle, all battles are simply these long periods of waiting, followed by terror for a few minutes, and then you’re either alive or you’re dead, right? 

Could you tell us about how Cave Canem has evolved over the years? 

It’s actually been 23 years — 10 years for City of Asylum, but 23 years for the entire workshop. In these 23 years, we went from a mom and pop kind of thing to something where we have a larger structure now. We have more of a reputation as an arts organization. Our fellows are well known all over the world — I was going to say all over the country, but really all over the world. It’s becoming generational. The Cave Canem fellows that started off 23 years ago are now the faculty. They’re inspiring the next wave of Cave Canem fellows. I think back to 23 years ago, and Toi and I didn’t really think it was going to be this big. 

What are some art forms, hobbies, or rituals that influence your writing? 

The world’s full of stuff! You don’t really have to sort it through… I guess we could probably say it would be the things I’m drawn to. I’m drawn to music. I’m drawn to graphic arts. I’m drawn to history. I’m drawn to the computer. … Of course, a lot of the stuff I do with music ends up online. I think the songwriting — which I’ve been doing more over the last few years — being able to interact with those apps to make music, then put music online, or edit music on the computer, has been a really interesting process. We’re basically coming up with a track where you find something online, a basic rhythm track, for example, or a guitar loop, and suddenly you realize you want to do something with it, and you start playing with it. A lot of my latest stuff is basically me just coming up with some loop and adding a combination of what I consider organic and digital sounds. I like that idea of a drum track. There are two schools of thought on that. I have friends who really hate the idea because it’s so precise, but on the other hand, you have something that’s always going to be available, always the noise on the beat. It has been something that I’ve been hanging with for a few years.

Cornelius Eady is the author of eight books of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award, and The Gathering of My Name was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His work in theater includes the libretto for an opera, “Running Man,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. His play, “Brutal Imagination,” won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American Playwright. Eady has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund. In 1996, Eady and poet Toi Derricote founded Cave Canem, a nonprofit organization that supports emerging African American poets through a summer retreat, regional workshops, a first-book prize, annual anthologies, and events and readings across the country. Eady has served as director of the Poetry Center at the State University of New York at Stonybrook, and has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, City College of New York, The Writer’s Voice, The College of William and Mary, and Sweet Briar College. He is currently a professor in the MFA program at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.

About Writer’s Block: The Writer’s Block is an ongoing video series of interviews with visiting writers at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. In these Q&A’s, conducted with Sampsonia Way, writers sit down with us to discuss literature, their craft, and career.

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