From the first published Black novelist in 1853 to the Affrilachian Poets of today, Black writers have been central to Kentucky’s literary voice. They have created writing styles and inspired social movements. They have fought it out, verbally, with white supremacists. Their collective voice has inspired the rest of the writing community to elevate their art.
In recent years, some Black writers have done this without the full support of the Carnegie Center. Over the last three months, inspired by Black Lives Matter, Carnegie’s staff and board have taken a close look at our own operations and policies. We’ve learned that while some Black writers find inspiration at Carnegie, too many come up against cultural and financial barriers.
Black writers frequently are “the only one” in their writing classes, and their work is sometimes minimized or marginalized. For that reason, some Black students report taking one class and not coming back. And while class fees are considered “affordable” at Carnegie, they remain a barrier for many potential Black students, who tend to have less family money because of generational financial discrimination.
To address these inequities, enhance Kentucky’s writing community, and meet our mission of “empowering people to express their voices,” the Carnegie Center is taking the following actions immediately:
▪ Creating the Kentucky Black Writers Collaborative (KBWC) as a support center for aspiring Black writers around the state;
▪ Hiring a coordinator to launch and coordinate the KBWC;
▪ Inviting Black residents of Kentucky to take writing classes at Carnegie at no charge;
▪ Creating and enforcing a robust anti-discrimination policy.
Carnegie is offering classes at no charge to Black students in recognition of systemic economic discrimination, including in education and publishing, where Carnegie operates. Our goal is to welcome Black students to Carnegie, nurture their development, and remove financial obstacles for as long as needed.
Beyond these first steps, Carnegie Board Chair Lisa Higgins-Hord is leading a review of Carnegie’s personnel, financial and other policies, seeking to identify and root out structural bias. The Center also is unveiling new classes specifically for emerging Black writers, and further diversifying its instructor and mentoring staff. We will report back on these and other changes.