Interview with Chet’la Sebree

The Wilmington Writers Conference, presented by the Museum Store, is celebrating its 5th anniversary on Saturday, July 24, with a free virtual event. This year, the Keynote Speaker and workshop presenter is award-winning poet Chet’la Sebree. Some of you may know Sebree from her time at the Museum, including a role as the 2019 Conference Coordinator. Her highly anticipated second book, Field Study, is out now.

Sebree’s journey for creating Field Study included research that became an integral part of the story. “I am often surprised at how this collection ended up manifesting in this layered patchwork,” Sebree said. “I wasn’t convinced that anyone would publish this project that blurs the line between poetry and prose, fact and fiction, so I gave myself permission to put the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus in conversation with the historical Pocahontas and Disney’s fictionalized version of her. I allowed myself to let Olivia Pope from Scandal and Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder to be in conversation with sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom and warrior poet and feminist Audre Lorde. I did a lot of reading and took in a lot of media while working on Field Study. And from all of these texts, I collected language and allowed them to move through the space on the page as they needed, as I saw the connections between one conversation and another.”

The resulting book in some ways evokes the spirit of Collecting and Connecting: Recent Acquisitions, 2010-2020, so it is particularly interesting that Sebree contributed wall text to the exhibition. “A museum lover to my core, I’ve always wanted to write label copy, so it was such an honor to write something in response to Collecting and Connecting,” she said. “It was nice to be able to sit with the art and see all of the ways in which the three pieces— Curlee Raven Holton’s The History Matters (1999), Aaron Douglas’s The Window Shopper (1955), and Bart Parker’s Untitled (1968)—were in conversation with each other, the ways in which they were distinctly different.”

Sebree was kind enough to offer us a sneak peek of what she has planned for conference participants, and they are in for a treat. “I am excited!” the poet said about returning to the conference as a keynote speaker. “The great part about having been able to be involved in this conference and this community in the past means that I have a good sense of what direction might be useful when it comes to the keynote (which I plan to connect to the Collecting and Connecting exhibition) and the breakout session.”

She will also be letting us in on her creative process with what’s sure to be an amazing workshop. “We never write in isolation. We’re always, whether we know it or not, in conversation with history, culture, art, family, etc. I’ll give a short craft lecture where we’ll walk through work that makes this multi-layered conversation transparent and discuss how we can apply some of those strategies to our own work. We’ll then do some generative writing exercises that prompt us to write ekphrastic poetry (poems that respond to art) or braided essays that make links between popular culture and our lives. I’m still ironing out the details, but the prompts will be multi-genre and get us thinking in new ways!”

Signed copies of Field Study and Sebree’s first book, Mistress, will be available in the Museum Store.

Learn more about the Wilmington Writers Conference and register.

Jessa Mendez
Lead Museum Associate