Remembrance, and a Reading by C.D. Wright

C. D. Wright at Documentary 2015: Origins and Inventions. Photograph by Forum Fellow Wei Wang.

C. D. Wright at Documentary 2015: Origins and Inventions, with writing panel moderator Jill McCorkle (foreground). Photograph by Forum Fellow Wei Wang.

We at the Center for Documentary Studies were so fortunate that our and C.D. Wright‘s stars aligned several times over the last fifteen years. In 2000, she and photographer Deborah Luster won our tenth Lange-Taylor Prize for their collaboration One Big Self, which represented and rendered the lives of Louisiana inmates in photographs and words. A special publication here at CDS preceded a limited-edition book of photographs and text (Twin Palms Publishers) as well as a volume featuring C.D.’s text alone (Copper Canyon Press), which a New York Times Book Review described as “[doing] to the contemporary prison-industrial complex what James Agee did to poverty—it reacts passionately and lyrically (and idiosyncratically) to a sociopolitical abomination.” In a recent email, C.D. commented on the impact that the prize had on her and Deborah’s collaboration: “That was such a fabulous project and it was such a boon to both Debbie and I for the effort. I assumed my part of it would be a disaster—prison poetry—almost doomed. But it was so engaging, and gave me a push into attempting the book about civil rights in the Ark. Delta in 1969 (One With Others: [a little book of her days]).” 

Less than two months ago, we had the honor of welcoming C.D. as a featured panelist at our 25th anniversary celebration and national documentary forum, where she gave a powerful reading from One With Others, which you can see in its entirety below. That book became a National Book Award finalist and won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award.

The news of C.D.’s passing this week has saddened all of us here. We have long cherished C.D. Wright’s intuitive renderings, her lightning clear poetry and prose, and her deeply imaginative inquiries into the lived realities of southerners. Her eloquent, complex, and thoughtful voice will be sincerely missed.

—Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies

Additionally, Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva of the Kitchen Sisters dedicated an episode of their podcast, Fugitive Waves, to remembering C.D. Wright and her inventive, poignant work. You can read more and listen to the episode, entitled “One Big Self: The Hidden World of Deborah Luster & C.D. Wright,” here.

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