Arkansan Poet C.D. Wright Dies At 67

Jan 14, 2016

Carolyn D. Wright
Credit John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arkansas-born poet C. D. Wright has died at the age of 67. She was born Carolyn D. Wright in Mountain Home, Arkansas on January 6, 1949. Her mother was a court reporter, her father a judge. She grew up near Harrison, attended Memphis State University and later went to the MFA creative writing program at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville in the mid-1970's. 


While in Fayetteville, she and the late Arkansas poet Frank Stanford ran Lost Roads Publishers, which focused on younger and previously untranslated poets. She joined the faculty of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1983 and remained a professor there until her death. During her life she was married to Forrest Gander, also a poet. The two had a son named Brecht.


In a 2011 work titled One With Others, Wright base a book-length poem on civil rights demonstrations in Forrest City, Arkansas during the late 1960's. It followed the story of a white woman from the area named V., based on an individual Wright knew personally and who was involved in many of the demonstrations, for which she became a pariah in her community.


Interviewed in a piece about the work for the PBS News Hour, Wright said she culled local newspaper archives and other accounts to shape the poem. “There were lots of records to be found. I interviewed a lot of citizens in that town who are still working night shifts, who are still doing neighborhood watch,” she said.



“Known for a signature styling of journalistic investigation, hybrid language, collaborations, and sharp wordplay, Wright was also fiercely committed to poetry,” said a post on the website of Copper Canyon Press, Wright's publisher.


In the New Yorker, Ben Lerner writes about her style:


“Academics and reviewers and prize committees and various admirers have tried to pin C. D. down, typically with praise: a Southern poet “of place” (she probably hated that) or an erotic poet or a vanguard innovator or an elliptical or documentarian poet, etc. Such descriptions are both briefly true and ultimately insufficient, because she was one of the most formally restless and ambitious writers in the language.”

Wright's 1994 work, The Lost Roads Project: A Walk-in Book of Arkansas is a sort of literary map of Arkansas. A map based on the project is currently under development as a poster and online exhibit, called "A Reader's Map of Arkansas." Wright was awarded numerous distinctions over the years, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Her publisher, Copper Canyon Press, said the cause of her death “is yet to be determined.”


Read more about Wright in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.  More from and the Poetry Foundation.


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly inferred that the Reader's Map of Arkansas would also be updated in a book form. The post was edited on 1/15/16.