Marjory Wentworth, South Carolina's poet laureate since 2003, was told there "wasn't enough time" for her to read her poem, "One River, One Boat," during Governor Nikki Haley's 2015 inauguration.
"I was shocked,” she says. “I wasn’t even invited to the inauguration. Then, of course, the day of the inauguration, James Clyburn read the poem into the congressional record and talked about why. I received enormous gratitude, particularly from the African American community and leadership, and it really changed my life.”
At the end of 2014, Marjory wrote racially charged "One River, One Boat" carefully. She had already written two inauguration poems for Mark Sanford and one for Nikki Haley. “It’s about them. It’s not about you. It’s very much about celebrating the event.”
But it’s also about history.
“And place. It was Trayvon Martin and Ferguson and just what was in the air, and I felt like that’s part of the story, too. And we don’t talk about it. I decided this time, I wanted it to be more about people. And who could have ever known the year we would have after?"
A week after the shooting at Mother Emanuel last summer, Marjory stood on the grounds of the statehouse and said, "I hope this is the last time I ever have to read this poem with that flag up like that." Her reading aired on MSNBC. And it was the last time.
Marjory has taught creative writing since the 1980s. She's worked for Amnesty International and on films with her husband, Peter Wentworth. She's published five books of poetry. Now, also as a professor at the Art Institute of Charleston, she's solidifying her place as a racial change-maker and writer in Charleston and in the entire state of South Carolina.
On June 14th of this year, Marjory's most recent publication, a book with Bernard Powers and Herb Frazier, We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel, will be released to commemorate and educate. It's "a deeper look at the suffering, triumph, and even the ongoing rage of the people who formed Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church and the wider denominational movement."
"I think that the creative community, everybody in the town who has a voice, has a responsibility. At this point, we have to carry on Senator Pinckney's legacy and promote change."
Words by Elizabeth Bowers
Photo by Karson Photography