Teenie Harris exhibition winds down with Cave Canem poetry reading
The last day for "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story" at Carnegie Museum of Art is April 7. For procrastinators and returning fans alike, Thursday is a good day to visit because three members of the African-American poetry organization Cave Canem will read in the galleries in front of Mr. Harris' looming, projected images.
Mr. Harris (1908-98) took thousands of photographs of Pittsburgh's Hill District from the 1930s to the '70s as a photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier. The Carnegie purchased his archive, comprising approximately 80,000 negatives, in 2001, and has been identifying, cataloging and digitally scanning them since. The exhibition, of 987 of his images, is a major undertaking, both in scope and inventive presentation of archival material including a commissioned jazz soundtrack and interactive web-based resources.
Poets Terrance Hayes, Yona Harvey and Kelli Stevens Kane will read existing work as well as new poems written in response to Mr. Harris' photographs. Brooklyn-based Cave Canem's poetry reading is the final exhibition-related event.
Mr. Hayes, a professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University, is author of "Lighthead," which won the 2010 National Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. His other poetry books are "Wind in a Box," "Muscular Music" and "Hip Logic." He has been awarded National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellowships.
Ms. Kane, an August Wilson Center Fellow, is a poet, playwright and oral historian whose grandparents were friends of Teenie Harris. Her grandfather, Jasper Stevens, and Mr. Harris played with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a Negro League baseball team, and are pictured together on the cover of author Rob Ruck's "Sandlot Seasons." She is author of an oral history manuscript, "Big George's Wylie Avenue," about her grandmother, nicknamed "Big George," who was the family matriarch; the play "I Never Laughed So Much at a Funeral"; and the poetry manuscript "Hallelujah Science." The works represent four generations of her family, who lived in the world that Mr. Harris documented.
Ms. Harvey, an emerging poet whose collection "Hemming the Water" will soon be published by Four Way Books, is assistant teaching professor of English and director of CMU's Creative Writing Program. She finds inspiration in nontraditional sources such as music reviews, fashion magazines, grammar primers and cookbooks. Ms. Harvey applies her knowledge of information science (she has master's degrees in fine arts and in library and information science) to searching for new audio archives and rare recordings in poetry.
Ms. Kane, whose family members are represented in some of Mr. Harris' photographs, selected specific images of personal interest to be shown at the reading, said Marilyn Russell, museum curator of education. The other two poets were "not writing to a specific image, but to the body of work."
Cave Canem (pronounced Ca-VAY KANE-em) was founded in 1996 by poets Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte, a University of Pittsburgh English professor. It's grown from the original 26 poets to a movement of more than 300, including such luminaries as Elizabeth Alexander, who read her "Praise Song for the Day" at President Barack Obama's inauguration, and Natasha Trethewey, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The organization holds an annual writing retreat at the University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg campus.
First Published March 28, 2012 12:00 am