Cornelius Eady Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Given his willingness to experiment with bringing the rhythms of both jazz and blues to the written word and his belief in poetry as performed (that is, heard) art, Cornelius Eady (EE-dee), not surprisingly, has produced several experimental theater pieces involving original scores written by jazz cellist and longtime friend Diedre L. Murray. The first production, in 1997, was a staged recitation based on You Don’t Miss Your Water, Eady’s cycle of prose poems that recounts his father’s death. In 1999, Eady provided the libretto for an experimental jazz opera based on the story of Murray’s brother, a gifted man lost to a life of crime and heroin addiction. That production, Running Man (pr. 1999), won two Obie Awards and was shortlisted for both the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His poetry collection Brutal Imagination contains a dramatic sequence based on the 1994 incident in which a South Carolina woman, Susan Smith, made up a story about an African American kidnapping her children to hide the fact that she had drowned them. The sequence was adapted into an off-Broadway play that won the Oppenheimer Award from Newsday in 2002.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Cornelius Eady emerged within the first generation of African American poets to succeed the formidable work of the Black Arts movement of the mid-twentieth century. That literary movement, an extension of the era’s Civil Rights movement, created new interest in black identity. Eady continued that exploration, using his own working-class upbringing and his position as a black poet in late twentieth century America. That compelling honesty, coupled with his experiments in the sheer music of language, has garnered Eady two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, for Running Man and The Gathering of My Name. Victims of the Latest Dance Craze was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets in 1985, and Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry. He received the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Poetry Prize in 2003. A career academic, Eady has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1993), the National Endowment for the Arts (1985), and the Rockefeller Foundation (1993), and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation (1992-1993).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Carroll, Rebecca, ed. Swing Low: Black Men Writing. New York: Carol Southern Books, 1995. In her work on seventeen black male writers, Carroll presents a biography and interview with Eady, as well as an excerpt from his work.

Harper, Michael S., and Anthony Walton, eds. Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. Contains a selection of Eady’s poetry with brief critical commentary within an anthology of Eady’s generation of African American poets.

Hawkins, Shayla. “Cave Canem: A Haven for Black Poets.” Poets and Writers 29, no. 2 (March/April, 2001): 48-53. Discusses the Cave Canem workshop and retreat founded by Eady and Toi Derricotte. Eady and Derricotte recognized the need for a “haven” for black writers.

Quashie, Kevin Everod. “Cornelius Eady.” In New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America, edited by Joyce Lausch, Keith Miller, and Quashie. Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2001. A helpful overview of Eady’s career. The introduction assesses issues and themes of Eady’s generation.

Williams, Tyrone, ed. Masterplots II: African American Literature. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2009. Provides in-depth examinations of two of Eady’s works, An Autobiography of a Jukebox and Brutal Imagination.

Young, Kevin, ed. Giant Steps: The New Generation of African-American Writers. New York: Perennial, 2000. A comprehensive introduction to Eady’s generation.