Scholars say that what has grown from the collective is a boom in African-American poetry that’s arguably as aesthetically significant in the writing world as the work of the Beat Generation, the New York School, the Fugitives, the Black Arts Movement, even the Harlem Renaissance.
Twenty years since the workshop and what I’m left with now is not bitterness or anger but an abiding sense of loss. Lost time, lost opportunities, lost people. When I think on it now what’s most clear to me is how easily ours could have been a dope workshop. What might have been if we’d had one sympathetic faculty in our fiction program. If we Calibans hadn’t all retreated into our separate bolt holes. If we’d actually been there for each other. What might have been if the other writers of color in the workshop—the ones who were like I don’t want to write about race—had at least been open to discussing why that might be the case. I wonder what work might have been produced had we writers of colors been able to talk across our connections and divides, if we’d all felt safe and accounted for in the workshop, if we’d all been each other’s witnesses. What might have been.