Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Charles Rowell, July 7, 1980

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction of Charles Rowell by interviewer

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Partial Transcript: [Music] Jim Wayne Miller, Elizabeth Hardwick, Charles Rowell...

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer introduces the author, Charles Rowell, noting the positions he holds at the University of Kentucky and some of his career achievements.

Keywords: Charles Rowell; Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines

Subjects: Callaloo; Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (U.S.); National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; Poets; Poets, African American; University of Kentucky

00:01:54 - His poem "Remembering Grandfather"

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Partial Transcript: Charles, I wondered if we could begin today with a poem. Could you read something?

Segment Synopsis: Rowell reads his poem, "Remembering Grandfather."

Keywords: Autobiographical poems; Poems about Grandfather; Poems about family

Subjects: Poetry; Poetry reading; Poetry--1960-1980; Poets

00:04:08 - Autobiography in poetry

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Partial Transcript: That's an interesting poem from the, uh, point of view of autobiography.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about the autobiographical dimension of his poetry and of literature in general. Instead of using the exact details of his life, his writing focuses on the mood or memory and makes much use of imagination. He thinks most other writers do the same.

Keywords: Autobiography in poetry; Imagination and fact in poetry; Writing style of poets

Subjects: Autobiography; Imagination; Poetry--1960-1980; Poets

00:06:15 - Influences

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Partial Transcript: Another interesting thing that this relates to is models.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about the poets he likes and who have influenced him. Among them are Robert Hayden, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath. He talks about his views on writers Jean Toomer and Phillis Wheatley.

Keywords: Influences in poetry; Jean Toomer; Literary models; Models in poetry; Phillis Wheatley; Robert Hayden; Robert Lowell; Sylvia Plath

Subjects: Poetry--1960-1980; Poets; Poets, African American

00:08:51 - Universal nature of Black experience

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Partial Transcript: In an essay, speaking again about models and, and writers and black writers, in an essay you wrote...

Segment Synopsis: Rowell explains his opinion (that he wrote in an essay) about the writings of Black authors. He thinks the writings of Black authors not only express the experience of African American people, but express universal human feelings. He uses Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes as examples.

Keywords: Black experience; Langston Hughes; Sterling Brown; Universal and particular

Subjects: Poets, African American; Poets--1960-1980

00:10:31 - Preconceptions in the writing process

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Partial Transcript: I was wondering if you had any, uh, idea of, of false notions or preconceptions that you had...

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about learning to get rid of his preconception that poetry should be political. He tries to write without preconceived notions about what he ought to write. He talks about his writing process. He writes the first draft, listens to it on a tape recorder, and then revises it.

Keywords: Poetry and oppression; Poetry writing process; Political poems; Politics in poetry; Writing process

Subjects: Poets, African American; Poets--1960-1980

00:13:05 - Various roles

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Partial Transcript: One aspect about your life that interests me is, is all--is the various hats you wear.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about how his various positions - teaching, working in administration, and writing - provide him with variety in life. But he also thinks that he doesn't get much time to write because of his other jobs.

Keywords: Writing

Subjects: Poets; Poets, African American; Poets--1960-1980

00:14:48 - Founding of Callaloo literary magazine

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Partial Transcript: I imagine one of the most interesting things you've ever done is this, uh--is the establishment of this magazine Callaloo.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about the circumstances surrounding the founding of the literary magazine called Callaloo. He thinks that there was a need to provide a forum for young African American writers of the South, who had been ignored by many magazines and journals. He had to ask for donations and use his own money to get the first issue published. After the first issue the magazine got funding from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines and then from the University of Kentucky. He talks about the focus and scope of the magazine.

Keywords: Literary magazines

Subjects: Callaloo; Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (U.S.); University of Kentucky

00:16:44 - Views on the interconnection between African, Caribbean, and African American writers

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Partial Transcript: Can you say something about the differences between the, the themes or the styles?

Segment Synopsis: Rowell expresses his views on the differences between three groups of writers--African American, Caribbean, and African. He thinks that while African American culture is based on the remnants of African cultures and the influence of European culture, Caribbean culture is much closer to the African cultures. These cultural backgrounds inform the writers from these regions, even if there is a shared Black aesthetic and ideology. Despite his respect for all writers with this shared background, he thinks he is a little defensive and "territorial" about the southern Black writers.

Keywords: African poets; Caribbean poets

Subjects: Poets, African American; Poets--1960-1980

00:20:28 - Broadside Press / Callaloo

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Partial Transcript: And we were speaking earlier about Dudley Randall who's, of course, been a literary force not just as a writer but as a publisher.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell talks about the impact of Dudley Randall's Broadside Press, a press devoted to publishing African American authors. He thinks his own Callaloo magazine follows that initiative. Randall's Broadside Press made it possible for people to read many authors who we would not know otherwise. He talks about the worldwide subscribers of Callaloo magazine.

Keywords: Audre Lorde; Dudley Randall; Publishing of African American authors; Subscription of Callaloo

Subjects: Broadside Press; Callaloo; Poets, African American

00:22:58 - His poem "Man and Woman"

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Partial Transcript: How about another poem?

Segment Synopsis: Rowell reads his poem "Man and Woman" which is about a marriage. He says it is also about the women's movement. After reading the poem he describes the circumstances of its composition and how he thinks it is a political poem.

Keywords: Marriage; Poems on marriage; Women's movement

Subjects: Poetry reading; Poets, African American; Poets--1960-1980

00:26:15 - His poem "Letter Number 4"

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Partial Transcript: It's about time to wrap this up but I'd like to hear another poem if you would.

Segment Synopsis: Rowell reads another one of his poems. The poem is for a friend of his who is confined in a hospital.

Keywords: Poems

Subjects: Poetry; Poetry reading; Poetry--1960-1980; Poets, African American