Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, "You can't go home again." Ironically, I have always agreed with his sentiment. However, in 2012, it was necessary for me to do just that—return to my hometown, even though I vowed that I never would. My mother became ill, and I went home to become her caretaker.
Growing up, I found Greenville, South Carolina, a difficult place to live because of the racial tensions there. After living in Tacoma, Washington; Aviano, Italy; and Burlington, New Jersey, due to my father’s Air Force trek, we ended up in South Carolina in the 1970s when I was 13 years old. I felt as if the Civil Rights Movement did not exist there due to the racial tension and the cultural divide. So, even when duty called many years later when I was in my 40s, I still felt conflicted about South Carolina and its weighted history.
Still, going home turned out to be richly creative for me. I began to poetically investigate South Carolina from an adult perspective. Living with my mom allowed us to forge a precious bond. She told me stories about her life growing up in the South that I had never heard, and I started to understand the South contextually.
Why I Started Writing in Persona
At the same time, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts made me its Poet-in-Residence. Instead of traveling as a poet and teaching artist nationally, I could work directly with schools, teachers, and the community where I grew up. This included curating a literary program called Peace Voices. I began to embrace South Carolina’s bitter and sweet history by writing persona poems. I began to take on voices of African Americans whom I had not learned about in school.
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