Consider Evie Shockley’s poem “the ballad of anita hill.”

Shockley’s work considers the moments leading up to Hill testifying at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who would succeed Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Hill, a Black lawyer and college professor, rocketed to national prominence in 1991, when she accused Thomas—who was her supervisor at the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity—of sexual harassment.

Thomas, whose tenure with the nation’s high court has since blasphemed everything Marshall stood for, claimed he was the victim of a “high-tech lynching.”

But Shockley, a Duke University graduate and finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, shows in her three-part ballad that Hill was made twice a victim decades before the #MeToo movement.

Shockley’s poem appears in the new anthology All the Songs We Sing, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. She writes:

you were bright when you took center stage: not dancing perhaps, but clear: prickly with bloodless truths.

And then, in the second section:

sit up straight. smile. wear that nice suit, you know, the blue one with the knee-length hem. say a prayer: just a quick, silent “thy will be done.”

The poem then pivots into an explosive third section, where yet another woman—with no regard to her credentials or credibility—is roundly condemned.

considered your talents — writing, teaching law — yet ranked you highest for your undemonstrated but patent skill at giving head (we saw through your disguise): and ultimately rated

you a queen-bitch-jezebel-matriarch-whore;

         destroyer of black manhood, and so much more.

This new anthology of work by writers in the collective—edited by its founder, the haiku master Lenard D. Moore—shows that North Carolina is home to a splendid array of Black writers who are extending the melodies of the Southern literary canon. In “Bop: Coaching Poets,” Moore writes:

In class, my six-foot-tall student,

next to the window,

dreads locked on her back,

says guys on the b-ball team

write poetry — don’t want it public.

Up front, I nod.

Know what you must do

Don’t be satisfied

I hand out two poems

tell them Quincy Troupe, Yusef K

penned them, their riffs clear.

They peer up, wide-eyed,

heads tilted like cups.

They never give a signal

that they write lines

that sizzle with strong light

Know what you must do

Don’t be satisfied

Three decades I’ve lived

the words that flame my pages

and do not apologize for writing

A man like me knows

what to tell his students

without shooting jive

Know what you must do

Don’t be satisfied

The Southern Review of Books describes All the Songs We Sing as a “complex, nuanced ballad, an important ensemble of voices worth listening to and spending careful time with. The artists of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective have not only brought the noise, they’ve brought the music.”

Along with a luminous foreword by Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina’s poet laureate, and the works of Shockley and Moore, the anthology includes poetry, short stories, and nonfiction by Crystal Simone Smith, Camille Dungy, Bridgette Lacy, Fred Joiner, Angela Belcher Epps, and Carole Boston Weatherford.

“The pages of this anthology,” Green writes, “form a sensual map of many tongues offering links to bewitching Moroccan nights and dark dirt roads in unnamed Southern towns that muffle the cries spilling from shotgun houses, wrong turns at the crossroad, and juke-joints that become theatres for too much living gone bad.”

Several of the poems pay homage to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old child whose lynching 65 years ago for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi ignited the modern civil rights movement.

L. Teresa Church’s poem “Golden Whistles for Emmett Till” reimagines the teen in a celestial seat of judgment following his ghastly fate caused by barbaric white supremacy.

If there was a whistle in Money

worth this boy’s life, let’s hear it

Break golden streets into pieces, dear God,

shape, shine them to fit Emmett’s lips.

Mold his melody between your fingers.

Please let Emmett’s whistle judge his killers.

Loose that boy’s notes all over Glory.

Two short stories in the anthology—“Sophia,” an excerpt from Angela Belcher Epps’s novel Salt in the Sugar Bowl, and “When the Stars Begin to Fall,” by Tracie Fellers—will linger with readers long after they put the book down.

Bridgette Lacy, an award-winning journalist and author, recently wrote that Moore started the collective at his Raleigh home in 1995. The now internationally acclaimed poet had just earned his undergraduate degree from Shaw University.

The meetings started around lunch and often lasted until dark. In addition to literary offerings, “there were platters of cold cuts, chicken wings, snacks and cool drinks steps away in the kitchen,” Lacy writes.

The collective was open to writers working in all genres. With more than 60 writers ranging in age from 20 to 70, the collective eventually held its meetings across the state to accommodate members who lived outside of the Triangle.

Moore wanted to create a setting that nurtured and affirmed Black writers. He pushed to get their work published, and he researched markets to determine who was publishing emerging Black voices.

“People were hungry for a place to be,” Church says on the collective’s website. “Hungry for a group of people to be with, looking for people like ourselves … White writers didn’t understand what I was writing about.”

Shockley is now a professor of English at Rutgers University. She attended the collective’s meetings from 1996 to 2000 while attending graduate school at Duke.

“We all took each other’s work seriously,” Shockley says. “We were considerate [in] the way we offered critique, but we were pushed to do our best work but never torn down.”

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