When poet Raina León first joined the Carolina African American Writers Collective after moving back to North Carolina from New York, she met Lenard D. Moore while he was grieving his daughter’s death, and wrote a poem a day to memorialize their relationship.
These daily poems eventually morphed into the groundwork for a new anthology of writing for the collective to share: “All the Songs We Sing.”
On Tuesday, University Libraries and Blair publishing company paired with four members of the CAAWC to read some of the writers’ contributions to the book. “All the Songs We Sing” is a way to celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of the collective and to share the experiences of these writers.
The four writers slated to read – León, L. Teresa Church, Ashley Harris and Mélina Mangal – come from different writing backgrounds, and thus shared pieces of different styles.
Mangal read a piece of fiction; León, Harris and Church shared poems — but everything came with a different backstory. —
“Anytime I've read with the collective there is always such joy, always such fellowship,” León said. “And even if no one is singing, everyone is singing. By that I mean, there’s that musicality, that delight in sound, and how we harmonize with one another, and also explore the discordance of the message within the collective and beyond the collective.”
The CAAWC was founded in 1995 by Moore as a way for Black writers in North Carolina to gather, write, socialize and read each other's stories and poems. Church was one of the original members, and she describes the writers collective as a family.
“When I went to the first meeting in the summer of 1995, I met writers that I didn't know of and writers who did not know me, and immediately we felt a kinship with each other,” Church said. “We are people who support one another in every particular phase of our lives. I would simply say that the Carolina African American Writers Collective is the absolute best thing that happened to me as a writer.”
Since “All the Songs We Sing” is a written representation of the Black experience, the writers said they took a lot from the reading after hearing each other share their stories.
As a newer member of the collective, Harris has only had about three years to collaborate with the other writers. However, she has found that the group has allowed her to share ideas that she described as “thought-provoking.”
“The CAAWC is just great,” Harris said. “They prove that Black people and Black writers are not a monolith. There are so many different stories and different poems that represent the Black experience, and I think that's important because oftentimes we’re told, ‘You're not a Black writer you're just a writer,’ but when we write, we're writing about our Black experience in this time. When we die, people are going to look back at our work and know what it was like for us.”
Because writing is a way to immortalize experiences, the topics and messages of these pieces can be heavy.
“I have learned that sometimes we're not ready yet for what the poem is really revealing,” León said. “Sometimes the poem meets you where you're ready, and sometimes the poem takes you to where you will be ready.”
As difficult as sharing a story may be, they all suggested that the best way to spread your words is by continuing to write, read and collaborate with other writers.
“If you have a story to tell, write it,” Church said. “Nobody can read and understand and appreciate your story unless it is written and unless they have a chance to read what you have written.”
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