Cornelius Eady

Distinguished Poet & Playwright
Cofounder of Cave Canem


“What is beautiful about Eady’s work is the way in which the poems themselves become envelopes, containers for the elegant missives of his characters’ voices—not angry in their tone, but piercing, quiet, intelligent—reflections of Cornelius Eady’s wonderfully restless spirit.” —Ploughshares


“Cornelius Eady's poems are joyous, incantatory, experiential. [His] work is a glossary of earthly objects and human events, and his linguistic responses provide pleasure even when they are provoked by injustice, or by pain, or by loss.” —Dia Art Foundation


Cornelius Eady was born in 1954 in Rochester, New York. He is the author of several books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Hardheaded Weather (Penguin, 2008), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His other titles are Kartunes, (Warthog Press, 1980); Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, (Ommation Press, 1986), winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name, (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991), nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; You Don’t Miss Your Water, (Henry Holt and Co., 1995); The Autobiography of a Jukebox (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1997); and Brutal Imagination (Putnam, 2001). His work appears in many journals; magazines; and the anthologies Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Vintage Anthology of African American Poetry, (1750-2000) ed. Michael S. Harper.

With poet Toi Derricote, Eady is cofounder of Cave Canem, a national organization for African American poetry and poets. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature (1985); a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, (1993); a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship to Tougaloo College in Mississippi (1992-1993); a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, (1993); and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994). In June 1997, an adaptation of You Don't Miss Your Water was performed at the Vineyard Theatre, in New York City. In April 1999, Running Man, a music-theatre piece co-written with jazz musican Diedre Murray, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and awarded a 1999 Obie for best musical score and lead actor in a musical. In January 2002, a production of Brutal Imagination (with a score by Diedre Murray) opened at the Vineyard Theatre, where it won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American Playwright.

Eady has taught poetry at SUNY Stony Brook, where he directed its Poetry Center; City College; Sarah Lawrence College; New York University; The Writer’s Voice; The 92nd St Y; The College of William and Mary; and Sweet Briar College. At present he is Professor of English and the Miller Family Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Order Book of Hooks from Kattywompus Press 

In most of Eady's poems, there is a musical quality drawn from the Blues and Jazz. Indeed, many of his poem titles allude to traditional African-American hymns and modern musicians such as Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. In You Don't Miss Your Water, Eady addresses the death of his father through a style traditional of the Blues, call and response. Brutal Imagination is comprised of two cycles of poems, each confronting the same subject: the black man in white America. The first cycle, which carries the book's title, is narrated largely by the black kidnapper invented by Susan Smith to cover up the killing of her two small sons. The second cycle, “Running Man,” focuses on the African-American family and the barriers of color and class. The title character represents every African-American male who has crashed into these barriers. These two cycles of poems taken together offer a stark reappraisal of race in America.

About HARDHEADED WEATHER (Poetry, 2008)
Hardheaded Weather is an exciting collection from one of America’s most engaging voices, at once delineating the arc of the poet’s universe and highlighting the range of his talents. The book opens with The War Against the Obvious, a selection of Eady’s newest work. In full control of his considerable skills—and displaying a new maturity as he enters midlife—Eady writes sly, unsentimental, witty poems full of truths that are intimate and profound. The poems encompass a wide territory, reflecting the newfound responsibilities he has assumed as he makes the transition from urban renter to nonplussed rural homeowner, as well as the sobering influence of war and the intimation of his own mortality. Even at his angriest, Eady has always had a depth of compassion rare in our polarized age; and his humor is both sophisticated and demotic, a rare combination. These new poems, which showcase these qualities, will resonate deeply with every reader.

The selected poems draw from Eady’s excellent body of work, including his astonishing unpublished manuscript The Modern World. From the outset, he has written about race, family, jazz, and even poetry itself with a voice that is uniquely his own: intelligent and elegant yet informed by street idiom, angry but never didactic. The way he weaves together these subtle juxtapositions with his signature inventiveness, honesty, and verve once again proves Kirkus Reviews’ declaration that “Eady’s touch is masterly.” These poems present the best of his work, and, taken as a whole, form a moving—and sometimes searing—testament to the power of poetry.