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An award-winning author presents a portrait of Black America in the nineteenth century
Over the course of two decades, award-winning poet Patricia Smith has amassed a collection of rare nineteenth-century photographs of Black men, women, and children who, in these pages, regard us from the staggering distance of time.
Unshuttered is a vessel for the voices of their incendiary and critical era. Smith’s searing stanzas and revelatory language imbue the subjects of the photos with dynamism and revived urgency while she explores how her own past of triumphs and losses is linked inextricably to their long-ago lives:
We ache for fiction etched in black and white. Our eyes never touch. These tragic grays and bustles, mourners’
hats plopped high upon our tamed but tangled crowns, strain to disguise what yearning does with us.
The poet’s unrivaled dexterity with dramatic monologue and poetic form reanimates these countenances, staring back from such yesterdays, and the stories they may have told. This is one of American literature’s finest wordsmiths doing what she does best—unreeling history to find its fierce and formidable lyric.
PATRICIA SMITH, winner of the 2021 Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Award for Lifetime Achievement, is the author of eight critically acknowledged volumes of poetry, including Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly Books), winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the poetry category, and finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; in 2008, her book Blood Dazzler was a finalist for the National Book Award. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Civitella Ranieri Fellow, a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient, a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, Smith is a distinguished professor at the City University of New York and visiting professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.