Twenty-five years ago, renowned poet Lenard D. Moore invited a group of his peers into his basement for a session of writing critique. That monthly gathering evolved into the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, which has supported over 60 writers across a variety of styles through their careers.
Members have published books, chapbooks, essays and their writing appears in a variety of literary magazines. The collective celebrates 25 years of honing their craft with the anthology “All the Songs We Sing” (Blair/2020), out June 2.
Host Anita Rao reflects on the CAAWC’s history with founder and editor of “All the Songs We Sing” Lenard D. Moore. Journalist and author Bridgette Lacy joins the conversation and shares her memories of the collective. And writer Angela Belcher Epps talks about how working with the collective helped sharpen her writing. Lacy, Belcher Epps and poet Crystal Simone Smith will host a virtual “All the Songs We Sing” workshop May 30-31 on Zoom.
Lacy on the collective’s emphasis on group motivation and getting published together:
The collective is like a choir in some ways. And I think it was always important from the very beginning that we not just be published individually, but as a group — our voices standing strong. So Lenard would often send out invitations from various editors that he knew or people looking for submissions, and Lenard would call you and go: Are you writing? He's constantly soliciting us to keep up, to keep the work going. So it's not just — when the work is not happening just when we're at the meetings. The work is happening all the time.
Moore on selecting pieces for “All the Songs We Sing”:
Since we are collective, I tried to have works that were in conversation with one another and that carried some kind of rhythm, and also deal with the American South and North Carolina in particular. And I thought that there [should] be some kind of rhythm or singing here with the words. So then I came up with the title “All the Songs We Sing” because we are a collective ... We included the best work to hopefully represent the Carolina African American Writers Collective in the best light and also show the range of voices.
Belcher Epps on her reaction to reading “All the Songs We Sing”:
When I opened the anthology and looked at the poems, I remembered [back during a meeting] how someone would bring a page of poetry and we would belabor each word, and they’d bring it back. And we’d do it again. You see how much time has been spent honing that craft. And that's the biggest memory I have: that it has been serious work. It hasn't been that we come together and celebrate the fact that we make words, we come together and we work for that celebration. And that's the biggest memory that I have — that it has been ongoing. It's always been that kind of rigor that I appreciate as an educator, and as a writer, because that's what growth is all about.