C.D. Wright (1949 – 2016)
In February of 2016, the steering committee for what would become The C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference came together for the first time. Within the hour, we moved from idea to reality and began our planning. We chose dates and places and discussed the format for the conference; then we needed to name our endeavor. News of Wright’s recent passing on January 12th still permeated our memories, and our decision to honor her in our naming was swift and unanimous. Our goal is for UCA to continue to shine a light on Wright’s contributions to the literary world now and into the future.
Born in Mountain Home, Arkansas, to a judge and a court reporter, C.D. Wright graduated from Harrison High School. She received a B.A. in French from Memphis State University before earning her M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville. Lost Roads Press, founded by the Arkansas poet Frank Stanford, published Wright’s first poetry collection, and after Stanford’s death Wright acted as the director of the press until 2005. Publishing over a dozen books in her lifetime, many with the renowned Copper Canyon Press, Wright became one of America’s foremost poets, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for One with Others (2011), as well as two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. In 2013, she was elected as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Wright is best known for her collage technique in poetry, braiding together multiple themes, images, and styles to create intense poems that stick with the reader long after the book is closed. While she left the Ozarks in the early 1980s, settling in Rhode Island where she taught at Brown University, Wright never stopped writing about her southern heritage with a focus on social justice issues, issues of race, class, and gender, especially. In 1994, Wright returned to Arkansas to curate the Lost Roads Project: A Walk-in Book of Arkansas, which was a multimedia exhibit of Arkansas authors from the time of de Soto’s narrative to the post-World War II poets and writers. Accompanying this project was “The Reader’s Map of Arkansas,” which has just been updated by a committee of Arkansas authors that C.D. Wright helped form in 2013.
With Wright’s passing, we lost not only a phenomenal poet but also a true champion of those voices most likely to go unheard.