Friday from the Archives: “The last ghost is always the lies that are told”: An Interview with Khalisa Rae Thompson by Maia L. Butler from NCLR Issue 31 (2022)
This week, we are continuing highlighting performance poetry, as we are accepting submissions to our first annual Jaki Shelton Green Performance Poetry Contest through April 30th. The distinction between performance and written poetry is slim; some of our reigning lights–like current NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green–are well-versed (pun fully intended) in both. Khalisa Rae Thompson, a rising light living in Durham, also makes full use of both poetic forms.
In both, she takes to task the stories we tell and are told about home. In her 2022 issue interview, Thompson talks about her love for and confusion about her adopted home state. She puzzles, “There’s no other place like North Carolina. Where else would you get one city that has the only coup d’état and a massacre that forced a whole race of people out? …Then, in another city, you have the first sit-in that happened at Woolworth in a place that becomes known for social justice and a mecca for Black businesses, and you still have several civil rights leaders that live in Greensboro today. And then Durham was the birthplace of Black Wall Street.”
Her most recent poetry collection tackles “ghost stories” from her own past as well as her communities, state, and nation. About her work’s core, she explained, “I needed to keep going from the personal to the broadly political in my poems. It’s like this: here’s what happened to me; here’s what happened a little bigger, in the South; and here’s what’s even bigger; here’s what’s happening in the world.” Thompson’s poetry work both invokes and sits squarely alongside writers such as Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankin, and North Carolina’s own Maya Angelou.