In August to September of this past year, the Peter Bullough Foundation was privileged to have L. Renée as a resident poet. Fresh from a residency at Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, Virginia, and having just completed her MFA in poetry from Indiana University, L. Renée came with plans to continue exploring her family’s history in Virginia’s state archives, as this research strongly ties to the interdisciplinary book project she’s in the process of composing, And the Dust Still Sings: Black Appalachian Inheritances. L. Renée’s work chronicles her maternal family’s story, which includes migration from Southwest Virginia’s tobacco fields to Southern West Virginia’s coal mines.
Through her storytelling, L. Renée also weaves a narrative of her family’s artifacts: her grandfather’s coal mining card, still coated in coal dust, correspondence about the black lung disease he suffered and the coverage he was denied, a family bible with locks of hair, hot combs, and more. L. Renée has uncovered documents regarding her ancestor's property in Virginia; the property was later destroyed in a fire.
Photograph of L. Renée at the Peter Bullough Foundation in September 2021
During her tenure here, we were thrilled to be able to introduce L. Renée to the wonderful Sean Murphy. Sean is the founder and director of 1455 Literary Arts, a Winchester-based organization with a dedication to storytelling, curating community through year-round free programming. We were delighted when it turned out that L. Renée and Sean had mutual friends in the same orbit.
With this community in place, 1455 and the PBF co-hosted a virtual reading with L. Renée, where she read two of her poems, "Why Family is a Fraught Term," forthcoming in Water~Stone Review, and "Fish Fry," originally published by the Appalachian Review. In addition, she answered some questions about herself, her current project, and her ongoing body of work, moderated by Sean. We highly recommend checking out the video of the virtual reading below and continuing to follow L. Renée’s incredible career; she’s won numerous awards for her work, not least of which are the Indiana University Guy Lemmon Award in Public Writing, being a finalist for the 2021 Rattle Poetry Prize, and nominations for Best New Poets and a Pushcart Prize. We cannot wait to purchase her future book in print! You can follow along as she celebrates Black joy on her instagram @lreneepoems.
If you enjoyed this video, you might also enjoy our upcoming virtual event on February 8, 2022. For Black History Month, we’ll be hosting a reading with author Marita Golden, whose new book, The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women will be discussed with our former resident, Sandra Jackson-Opoku! You can sign up for the event through this link and you can also check out 1455’s events and ongoing reading series here.