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Cornelius Eady

1954–

Born on January 7, 1954, Cornelius Eady was raised in Rochester, New York. He attended Monroe Community College and Empire State College.

He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008); Brutal Imagination (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001), which was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry; The Gathering of My Name (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Ommation Press, 1986), which was chosen by Louise Glück, Charles Simic, and Philip Booth for the 1985 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets.

In 1996, Eady and the poet Toi Derricotte founded Cave Canem, a nonprofit organization serving Black poets of various backgrounds and acting as a safe space for intellectual engagement and critical debate. Along with Derricotte, he also edited Gathering Ground (University of Michigan Press, 2006). In 2016, she and Eady accepted the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on behalf of Cave Canem.

He has collaborated with jazz composer Deidre Murray in the production of several works of musical theater, including You Don’t Miss Your Water; Running Man, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999; Fangs, and Brutal Imagination, which received Newsday’s Oppenheimer Award in 2002.

About his work, the poet June Jordan has said, “Cornelius Eady leads and then cuts a line like no one else: following the laughter and the compassionate pith of a dauntless imagination, these poems beeline or zig-zag always to the jugular, the dramatic and unarguable revelation of the heart.”

His honors include the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Eady has served as director of the Poetry Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook 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 was The Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing and Professor in English and Theater at The University of Missouri-Columbia. Eady is currently a professor in the MFA program at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Hardheaded Weather (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008)
Brutal Imagination (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001)
The Autobiography of a Jukebox (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997)
You Don’t Miss Your Water (Henry Holt, 1995)
The Gathering of My Name (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991)
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM (State Street Press, 1988)
Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Ommation Press, 1986)
Kartunes (Warthog Press, 1980).

By This Poet

5

I'm a Fool to Love You

Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman,
Some type of supernatural creature.
My mother would tell you, if she could,
About her life with my father,
A strange and sometimes cruel gentleman.
She would tell you about the choices
A young black woman faces.
Is falling in with some man
A deal with the devil
In blue terms, the tongue we use
When we don't want nuance
To get in the way,
When we need to talk straight.
My mother chooses my father
After choosing a man
Who was, as we sing it,
Of no account.
This man made my father look good,
That's how bad it was.
He made my father seem like an island
In the middle of a stormy sea,
He made my father look like a rock.
And is the blues the moment you realize
You exist in a stacked deck,
You look in a mirror at your young face,
The face my sister carries,
And you know it's the only leverage
You've got.
Does this create a hurt that whispers
How you going to do?
Is the blues the moment
You shrug your shoulders
And agree, a girl without money
Is nothing, dust
To be pushed around by any old breeze.
Compared to this,
My father seems, briefly,
To be a fire escape.
This is the way the blues works
Its sorry wonders,
Makes trouble look like
A feather bed,
Makes the wrong man's kisses 
A healing.

Manchild

 for bell hooks

A warning one white friend hisses
To the one standing nearest to me
At an Upper West Side newsstand.
As if my ears
Could not cradle human speech.

This is the birth of a regret:
My surprise of the woman on my right
As I reach to buy a paper.
How her
Where? becomes an Oh.
How they grin,
I am a close call, how they grin,
Pickpocket my ease,
How they
Grin, then push off down the street.
Now I have the rest of Saturday.

Who will touch my hand,
Who will take my quarters,
These clots of syntax
Growing cold in the blush of my palm?

Sherbet

The problem here is that
This isn’t pretty, the
Sort of thing that

Can easily be dealt with
With words. After
All it’s

A horror story to sit,
A black man with
A white wife in

The middle of a hot
Sunday afternoon in
The Jefferson Hotel in

Richmond, Va., and wait
Like a criminal for service
From a young white waitress

Who has decided that
This looks like something
She doesn’t want

To be a part of. What poetry
Could describe the
Perfect angle of

This woman’s back as
She walks, just so,
Mapping the room off

Like the end of a
Border dispute, which
Metaphor could turn

The room more perfectly
Into a group of
Islands? And when

The manager finally
Arrives, what language
Do I use

To translate the nervous
Eye motions, the yawning
Afternoon silence, the

Prayer beneath
His simple inquiries,
The sherbet which

He then brings to the table personally,
Just to be certain
The doubt

Stays on our side
Of the fence? What do
We call the rich,

Sweet taste of
Frozen oranges in
This context? What do

We call a weight that
Doesn’t fingerprint,
Won’t shift,

And can’t explode?