San Quentin Poetry Volunteer C.D. Wright Passes at 67

By Miguel Quezada
Staff Writer

Poet C.D. Wright passed away on Jan. 13, 2016 in her home in Barrington, R.I., at age 67.

She left behind a husband, son and a world of aspiring poets. Her unexpected death was a mere two days after she gave the second in a series of poetry workshops with writers of the San Quentin group Kid C.A.T.

During one of the first poetry writing workshops with the men of Kid C.A.T., she explained that she began writing poetry at 7 years old. “I wasn’t really good at anything else,” she told the group.

A former poet laureate of Rhode Island and winner of a MacArthur fellowship, Guggenheim fellowship, National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, Wright’s poetry appeared in The New Yorker and regularly in many other national publications.

Anouthinh Pangthong recalled, “You could see the joy on her face when she taught about poetry. Ms. Wright made learning poetry interesting and exciting. She will be missed.”

A professor of English and of literary arts at Brown University since 1983, Wright sought with her poetry to reach atypical audiences, subjects and students. Famous for her mold-breaking style, Wright completed a collection of poetry titled “One Big Self” (2003) following interviews with more than 300 inmates at Angola state prison in Louisiana.

“My poems are about desire, conflict, the dearth of justice for all,” Wright once told an interviewer. The men recalled that her passion for language and her down to earth style made her an excellent teacher, and her awareness of injustices was palpable.

“The moment I met Ms. Wright I was immediately impacted,” said Adnan Khan. “I shared a poem about being disconnected from my culture. She had so much wisdom and intellect to offer me. She said she was genuinely moved, which moved me and inspired me further to continue to express myself through poetry.”

Some of her published works include “Rising, Falling, Hovering” (2008), “Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (2005),” “Tremble” (1996), “Just Whistle: A Valentine” (1993), and “Translations of the Gospel Back Into Tongues” (1982).

“She was a force,” said volunteer Karin Drucker. “When I last escorted her from the prison, she seemed thrilled to have spent time with a group of people who loved language as much as the Kid C.A.T. men do. She treated them like writers, not ‘inmates.’”

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