Clemonce Heard was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. His debut collection, Tragic City, a contemplation on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, won the 2020 Anhinga Robert Dana Poetry Prize, and the 2022 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award in Poetry. Heard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming from AGNI, Cimarron Review, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. He earned a BFA in graphic communications from Northwestern State University, and an MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. Heard was a recipient of a 2018-2019 Tulsa Artist Fellowship, the 2019-2020 Ronald Wallace Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the 2021 Sala Diaz artist-in-residence in San Antonio, Texas, and is a 2022-2023 MacDowell Fellow.
photo by Heyd Fontenot
Clemonce Heard’s penetrative and muscular debut probes the blatant brutality perpetrated by white men from the towering perch of their self-imposed birthright — with unerring focus on the “tragic city” of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, in 1921, that mercenary privilege resulted in the utter decimation of the flourishing black community of Greenwood, and the deaths of hundreds of its citizens. Since the massacre is still unknown to so many, Heard urgently transports the reader into the moments of the tragedy, reviving the people and places that gave Greenwood its pulse — then moves into the disquieting present day, where the circumstances that led to that titanic loss still exist, and still resound. — Patricia Smith
I have never in my life read a poet, a writer, an American artist so beautifully manipulate futurist proclamations and the minutiae of memory. This book is elite art born of Clemonce Heard's stank genius. Tragic City is here to break the unbroken and possibly shift how place and language can work. Stunning. — Kiese Laymon