In his introduction to All the Songs We Sing, Lenard D. Moore — poet, editor, and founder of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective — declares that, like the media,
In his introduction to All the Songs We Sing, Lenard D. Moore — poet, editor, and founder of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective — declares that, like the media, “We poets and writers must also make decisions about what to document.”
Twenty-five years ago, Moore created the CAAWC to grapple with the question of not only what to document, but also who was allowed to document, and to provide a platform for the voices of unpublished and “invisibled” writers inside the literary landscape of North Carolina. I witnessed his ideas germinating long before he actually formalized the CAAWC in 1995. Our lengthy conversations and frustrations always circled back to a blatant lack of representational inclusion during the explosion of a very enlightened literary renaissance that others were experiencing in North Carolina. We always joked about neither one of us ever being invited to submit to the many poetry anthologies that were happening in North Carolina, or always being the tokens in the room.
All the Songs We Sing expands the translations of Black traditions and conditions for a broad public audience. The featured poets, novelists, and essayists in the anthology are not restricted to the borders of North Carolina or any rural South. However, the fertile Carolina spit and sweat, soil, tobacco fields, coastal breezes, myth, and lore inform, define, orchestrate, and texturize syntax for many of these writers who claim North Carolina as home or ancestral “homeplace.”
The fortitude of these poignant, necessary voices — Carole Boston Weatherford, L. Teresa Church, Sheila Smith McKoy, Kim Arrington, and many others — confirms and validates the status of Black writers reclaiming, reordering, and repurposing the holiness of our collective literature. In some instances, this fortitude declares what it means to be and to bear witness to the experiences of living, traveling, and occupying space as Black bodies in white spaces across geographical and historical North Carolina landscapes and beyond.
In “ballad of bertie county,” Evie Shockley conjures the double entendre of dark country roads: “it was our hope to get there long before dark, but this part of carolina had been dark for two hundred years or more: dim-lit by white flames of cotton on thin brown stalks.” Generations of Afro-Carolinians understand the whispering darkness that is both protector and threat, understanding all meaning that is implied in “get there before dark.”
There is vivid personal immediacy of language that arouses, haunts, and reassigns agency to the Black writer. “Escaping poverty is an out-of-body experience and those left behind are the body in the coffin.” This is the last line in Ashley Harris’s poem, “A Link Between Worlds.” This poem and so many others masterfully deliver the scope of the myriad nuances, codes, and symbols that reimagine triangulated power, oppression, and deliverance.
These contributing writers sing the language of self-defined origin and memory. In the words of Octavia Butler, they remind us, “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” If we read and listen carefully, we find ourselves over and again inside these pages.