Cornelius Eady

Distinguished Poet & Playwright
Cofounder of Cave Canem

Readings &
Lecture Topics
  • An Evening with Cornelius Eady

Biography

“What is beautiful about Eady’s work is the way in which the poems themselves become envelopes, containers for the elegant missives of his characters’ voices—not angry in their tone, but piercing, quiet, intelligent—reflections of Cornelius Eady’s wonderfully restless spirit.” —Ploughshares

“Cornelius Eady’s poems are joyous, incantatory, experiential. [His] work is a glossary of earthly objects and human events, and his linguistic responses provide pleasure even when they are provoked by injustice, or by pain, or by loss.” —Dia Art Foundation

Cornelius Eady was born in 1954 in Rochester, New York. He is the author of several books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Hardheaded Weather (Penguin, 2008), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His other titles are Kartunes (Warthog Press, 1980); Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Ommation Press, 1986), winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991), nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; You Don’t Miss Your Water (Henry Holt and Co., 1995); The Autobiography of a Jukebox (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1997); Brutal Imagination (Putnam, 2001); the mixed media book/cds Book of Hooks (Kattywompus Press, 2013); Singing While Black (Kattywompus Press, 2015), and The War Against the Obvious (Jacar Press, 2018). His work appears in many journals, magazines, and the anthologies Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Vintage Anthology of African American Poetry, (1750-2000) ed. Michael S. Harper.

With poet Toi Derricote, Eady is cofounder of Cave Canem, a national organization for African American poetry and poets. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature (1985); a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, (1993); a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship to Tougaloo College in Mississippi (1992-1993); a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, (1993); and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994). In June 1997, an adaptation of You Don’t Miss Your Water was performed at the Vineyard Theatre, in New York City. In April 1999, Running Man, a music-theatre piece, co-written with jazz musician Diedre Murray, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and awarded a 1999 Obie for best musical score and lead actor in a musical. In January 2002, a production of Brutal Imagination (with a score by Diedre Murray) opened at the Vineyard Theatre, where it won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American Playwright.

Eady has taught poetry at SUNY Stony Brook, where he directed its Poetry Center; City College; Sarah Lawrence College; New York University; The Writer’s Voice; The 92nd St Y; The College of William and Mary; Sweet Briar College; and The University of Missouri-Columbia. He a professor in the MFA program at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton.

In most of Eady’s poems, there is a musical quality drawn from the Blues and Jazz. Indeed, many of his poem titles allude to traditional African-American hymns and modern musicians such as Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. In You Don’t Miss Your Water, Eady addresses the death of his father through a style traditional of the Blues, call and response. Brutal Imagination is comprised of two cycles of poems, each confronting the same subject: the black man in white America. The first cycle, which carries the book’s title, is narrated largely by the black kidnapper invented by Susan Smith to cover up the killing of her two small sons. The second cycle, “Running Man,” focuses on the African-American family and the barriers of color and class. The title character represents every African-American male who has crashed into these barriers. These two cycles of poems taken together offer a stark reappraisal of race in America.

Eady is also available to perform with his literary band, Rough Magic. Rough Magic is a New York-based band sprung from Cornelius Eady’s long and celebrated literary life, and from his desire to extend the boundaries of language expression to include the songs he had produced over the years and those that had emerged from a renewal of his musical creativity. In January of 2013, Eady released Book of Hooks, a two-CD and chapbook set of original tunes on Kattywompus Press. Almost by “magic,” a group of poet-musician-composers converged who shared Eady’s vision that text, melody, harmony, and rhythm all have an equally strong place in artistic expression. Rough Magic calls upon troubadour traditions and evokes the sounds and storytelling of blues greats like Muddy Waters, folk legends such as Woody Guthrie and the unexpected grooves and subject-matters of the Talking Heads. At the same time, band members hold a keen sense of innovation, as they are all working text-and-music makers engaged in building new combinations of words and sounds.

Rough Magic

Cornelius Eady is also a song writer, and is available to perform with his acoustic Trio, Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black American experience and the blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh & Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, & poet. Cornelius Eady Trio’s debut album called “Field Recordings” was released by Kattywompus Press on vinyl and digital download in February 2017. The album is available for purchase HERE. The Trio released their second album “2 Out of 3” in Spring 2018 on Kattywompus Press. A third, as yet untitled project is stated to be recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn, in the Fall of 2018.

Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum.

Events booked with the Trio will begin with a short reading by Eady followed by a 20-40 minute set with the band. Rauh and Liu also teach, and are also available to teach music/poetry workshops as part of their appearance.

Short Bio

Cornelius Eady is the author of several books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Hardheaded Weather, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets, The Gathering of My Name, which was nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize, and his most recent collection The War Against the Obvious. With poet Toi Derricote, Eady is cofounder of Cave Canem, a national organization for African American poetry and poets. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award.

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