A Report Full of Holes, a Little Commemorative Edition

By  |  December 28, 2017
C.D. Wright, with Jill McCorkle, moderator of the panel “True Stories: Facts and Fictions,” at the Center for Documentary Studies’ Documentary 2015: Origins and Inventions. Photograph by Forum Fellow Wei Wang. C.D. Wright, with Jill McCorkle, moderator of the panel “True Stories: Facts and Fictions,” at the Center for Documentary Studies’ Documentary 2015: Origins and Inventions. Photograph by Forum Fellow Wei Wang.

 A Dispatch from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University 


 

We at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) were so fortunate that our and C. D. Wright’s stars aligned several times over the last fifteen years. In 2000, she and photographer Deborah Luster won our tenth Lange-Taylor Prize for their collaboration One Big Self, which represented and rendered the lives of Louisiana inmates in photographs and words. A special publication here at CDS preceded a limited-edition book of photographs and text (Twin Palms Publishers) as well as a volume featuring C.D.’s text alone (Copper Canyon Press), which the New York Times Book Review described as “[doing] to the contemporary prison-industrial complex what James Agee did to poverty—it reacts passionately and lyrically (and idiosyncratically) to a sociopolitical abomination.” In an email, C.D. commented on the impact that winning the prize had on her and Deborah’s collaboration: “That was such a fabulous project, and it was such a boon to both Debbie and I for the effort. I assumed my part of it would be a disaster—prison poetry—almost doomed. But it was so engaging, and gave me a push into attempting the book about civil rights in the Arkansas Delta in 1969.”

That book was One With Others: [a little book of her days], and less than two months before C.D. passed away, we had the honor of welcoming her as a featured panelist at our twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and national documentary forum, where she gave a powerful reading from One With Others.

C.D. described the collection this way: “My book is a tribute to a woman I met when I was still in my tweens. (Tweens, what are those? I was never in my tweens.) There was this totally iconoclastic, irate, hilarious woman with a dazzlingly literary, smart, self-taught intelligence living in the Arkansas Delta with her husband with whom she was profoundly incompatible and their seven children, which didn’t make it easy to extricate oneself. When her town exploded as many other towns did in 1968 in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination. . . . She stepped forward, crossed over, so to speak. Ultimately, my book became a reckoning with those times through the warped lens of that particular historical moment in that exact local.”

Her reading was part of a panel moderated by writer Jill McCorkle titled “True Stories: Facts and Fictions,” and C.D. opened by reading a passage of James Agee’s from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:

If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game.

A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

We cherish C. D. Wright’s intuitive renderings, her lightning clear poetry and prose, and her deeply imaginative inquiries into the lived realities of others. Her eloquent, complex, and thoughtful voice is missed.

In the spirit of C.D., we wanted to create an interactive presentation to honor the skillful interweaving of source materials that made her poems breathe, feel immediate—oral histories, personal memories and reflections, newspaper accounts. This expression of her reading, which combines image, text, and voice, is meant to be experienced in the present rather than as a record of something past. We hope you will enjoy this piece, which was developed as part of a series of experiments for CDS Shortwave, a project-in-progress of our DocX Lab. As C.D. writes at the beginning of One With Others, “This is not a work of history. It is a report full of holes, a little commemorative edition, and it aspires to the borrowed-tuxedo lining of fiction. In the end, it is a welter of associations.”
 
—Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies

2017 12 28 CDS2C. D. Wright, with Jill McCorkle, moderator of the panel “True Stories: Facts and Fictions,” and copresenters Phillip Lopate and Randall Kenan at the Center for Documentary Studies’ Documentary 2015: Origins and Inventions. Photograph by Forum Fellow Wei Wang.


Excerpted poems from One With Others: [a little book of her days], copyright 2010 by C.D. Wright, used by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org


This installment of The By and By is curated by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS). CDS is dedicated to documentary expression and its role in creating a more just society. A nonprofit affiliate of Duke University, CDS teaches, produces, and presents the documentary arts across a full range of media—photography, audio, film, writing, experimental and new media—for students and audiences of all ages. CDS is renowned for innovative undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education classes; the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival; curated exhibitions; international prizes; award-winning books; radio programs and a podcast; and groundbreaking projects. For more information, visit the CDS website


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C. D. Wright published more than a dozen collections of poetry and received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations. She was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Whiting Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and the international prize for poetry given by the Griffin Trust. Born in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, Wright passed away on January 12, 2016.

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