Credit: Raven Jackson

WINNER »

2020

Charleen McClure

poetry

Charleen McClure, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, was born in London and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta. She earned her B.A. from Agnes Scott College, her M.A. in TESOL from Hunter College, and is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in poetry at New York University. A Fulbright scholar, she has received fellowships from The Conversation Literary Arts Festival, Cave Canem, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and VONA. Her work has been published in The Offing, Poetry Project, Mosaic, Muzzle, and elsewhere. 


Currently, she is at work on her first collection of poems entitled Kiss Your Teeth, which explores black women’s refusal through the lens of desire. “The book,” she says, “elaborates on the ways that black women have come to articulate and assert what they want. The poems sort through the myths and models of black femininity with speakers attempting to reconcile competing desires. Yet, at the same time, they revel in the body’s bad attitudes and wild appetites to reclaim it from the historical and ongoing systems of oppression that have sought to abuse it.” Her nominator writes, “In Charleen McClure’s poems the body—its needs, desires, repulsions, ghostly impulses, also its il/legibility, its immediacy and mediation—is central. She possesses bone-aching patience in the presence of revelation’s slow arrival, working in unpretentious, serious counter-partnership with the word.” 


To meet the demands of her book project, she plans to use her Writer’s Award to further and deepen her research from materials and archives housed at the Schomburg Center as well as the libraries at Harvard and Spelman College. She lives in New York City.

Excerpt from "Age," The Offing, May 1, 2019. 

Here                        he
                             calling me

                    ill                                                              with
I don't mean to be   old, but I                           know
                             for you and I can't 


                                                     numb

his
                                                   number
                                                         ing 

 his                                                            eve   hang

                                                           it
Let me              ou t

           tonight 



"This poem is an erasure of "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number," written by a grown R. Kelly for a young Aaliyah to sing." - Charleen McClure

Also by Charleen McClure:

  • Caretaker.” Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 1, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

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