Cheryl Clarke: Orlando Poetry Judge

Often, poetry has been used to educate and motivate people to change their lives–to change their circumstances.—Cheryl Clarke

AROHO is pleased to announce renowned poet and civil rights activist Cheryl Clarke as the finalist Poetry judge for the Fall 2014 Orlando Prizes. We asked Cheryl the following questions about her own writing and her advice for women writers:

Photo: Ann E. Chapman

Cheryl Clarke
Photo: Ann E. Chapman

AROHO:  Can you talk a little about your experience of the relationship between poetry and social justice?

CHERYL: I was in college during [the time of the Black Arts Movement] and learned a great deal about politics and the politics of literature […]. This was the first time I witnessed literature being utilized to educate people, i.e., black people, about their history and their identity. I have written about the Black Arts Movement in my monograph, ‘After Mecca:’ Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (2005, Rutgers University Press). The experience of poetry and social justice is that literature, often poetry, illustrates social injustice, e.g. The Dewbreaker by Edwige Danticat or The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes, both of which I discuss in an article entitled “By Its Absence,” on social justice and literature. Often, poetry has been used to educate and motivate people to change their lives–to change their circumstances.

AROHO: Your poetry is very straightforward, very sensual, very brave. What makes you so brave?

CHERYL: Thank you. If I am “brave,” there is not one thing that makes me so. I feel I have a large community that has supported me and my work, very brave lesbians, as it were.

AROHO: Do you have any activities that jump-start your creativity when the well is running dry?

CHERYL: …If I am feeling “dry” I start revising work. That often helps to get the juices going. If not I continue to revise. I am a big believer in sitting down and facing what I have to do. It helps to have a goal, a deadline (not that I pay much attention to deadlines.), a place where the work might be published.

AROHO: What is one resource you wish more women writers had or knew about?

CHERYL: Money. Other women writers.

AROHO: Is there anything you hope to discover in the Orlando poetry submissions?

CHERYL: A fabulous new poet!


CHERYL CLARKE is the author of four books of poetry, Narratives: poems in the tradition of black women (1982), Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers Press, 2005), and The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (Carroll and Graf, 2006). She continues to write poetry and essays. Her latest manuscript is entitled “By My Precise Haircut.” Though she has written many essays over the years relevant to the black queer community, “Lesbianism: an act of resistance,” which first appeared in the iconic This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color (Anzaldua and Moraga, eds., 1982) and “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” which was published in the equally iconic Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Smith, ed., 1984) continue to be favorites. She considers herself a scholar of Audre Lorde and continues to write about the impact of Lorde’s work. She recently wrote an introduction to G.R.I.T.S., An Anthology of Writing by Southern Black Lesbians (Williams, ed., Media Arts Project, 2013). Her article, “By Its Absence: Literature and Social Justice Consciousness” will appear in The Handbook of Social Justice (Reisch, ed., Routledge, 2014). She received the Kessler Award from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013. She finally retired from Rutgers University in July of 2013 after 41 years of studying, teaching, and administration on the New Brunswick campus. With Barbara J. Balliet, her partner of 22 years, she is co-owner of Blenheim Hill Books in Hobart, the Book Village of the Catskills. She is one of the organizers of the annual Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, N.Y. In honor of their mother, Edna Payne Clarke, Cheryl and her sister Breena created and funded the Edna Payne Clarke Fellowship for a woman of African American descent to attend the AROHO Retreat.


The deadline for submitting to the Fall Orlando Prizes is July 31st, 2014.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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