Pulitzer Prize-winning poet brings stories of African-American creatives to life [Audio]

Tyehimba Jess’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection, Olio (2016), presents the sweat and story behind America’s blues, work songs, and church hymns. Part fact, part fiction, Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them. Tyehimba Jess’s first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” Olio, his second collection, was published by Wave Books in 2016 and received the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

On January 31, 2019 the Block Museum and the Litowitz Creative Writing Graduate Program at Northwestern University welcomed the acclaimed poet for a reading.

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From The Daily Northwestern

Author Tyehimba Jess said while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry book “Olio,” he was inspired to tell the stories of people who have been left out of history.

Jess spoke at the Block Museum of Art on Thursday, reading excerpts from his poetry book “Olio” as part of the newly-launched Litowitz MFA+MA Creative Writing Speaker Series. Jess’s work furthers the museum’s commitment to telling stories from many perspectives, said Susy Bielak, the museum’s associate director of engagement and curator of public practice.

Jess said he is “fascinated” with stories of African-American creatives in the 19th and 20th centuries, which is why he incorporated them into “Olio.” The writer shares stories from people such as Millie and Christine McCoy, conjoined twins who were born into slavery in the South during the 19th century. The twins eventually earned enough money through their traveling act to buy the plantation on which they used to work.

“When I read them I was like, ‘How come I didn’t know all this?’ and that’s part of the energy that I came to these stories with,” he said. “I felt like people should know.”

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