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Throughout the month of June, Piccolo Spoleto will be presenting a series of poetry selections from some of the most renowned authors in the Southeast. The two-week engagement will feature live readings showcasing a new poet each day. These readings, free to the public, will take place in the Lenhardt Garden at the Gibbes Museum in downtown Charleston.

It’s an all-star lineup of incredible authors this year. 

Black | Provided

Al Black, author of Man with Two Shadows, kicks off the series June 1. Black is a co-founder of Poets Respond to Race Initiative and was Jasper Magazine’s Literary Artist of the Year in 2017. Valerie Nieman follows on June 2. She is a former National Endowment of the Arts fellow, author of four novels, and teacher at North Carolina A&T State University.

Spencer | Provided

H.R. Spencer will read from The Color After Green June 3. Published in 2019, this collection of contemporary nature poems reach for larger concerns of climate and ecological changes.

Haskins | Provided

The following week on June 7, Lola Haskins lands in the Lenhardt Garden to read from her collection of 14 poetry books. An honorary chancellor of the Florida State Poets Association, Haskins is a recipient of the Emily Dickinson prize from the Poetry Society of America.

Axelrod | Provided

Following Haskins is David B. Axelrod, a three-time Fulbright poet. Axelrod reads on June 8.

Maples | Provided

June 9 belongs to Kwoya Fagin Maples, of Charleston. A Cave Canem Fellow, her work, Mend, was a finalist for the 2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. 

Ocasio | Provided

June 10 sees Grace C. Ocasio, and the series ends on June 11 with Ren Ruggiero. Ruggiero, of Charleston, is the author of Mermaid Daughter, her first collection of poetry. Her work also appeared in Kakalak 2017, Morbid Curiosity and Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology.

Ocasio, a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and Newberry native, will present readings from her books, Hollerin from This Shack, The Speed of Our Lives, and Family Reunion

Ruggiero | Provided

Family Reunion, her second full-length collection, tells the story of her lineage from both sides of her family. Highlighted among this work is her grandfather, a medical doctor, who founded the People’s Hospital in 1937, a hospital that served the neglected African-American community in her hometown. The People’s Hospital was the only hospital for Black people until the desegregation of Newberry County Memorial Hospital in 1952.

Ocasio’s readings will include works from throughout her career as a writer, looking at her evolution through the years. The poems were born when she was a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College to when she moved to Charlotte, and cover a great deal of her life.

“I am pleased to read in Charleston knowing that I have Southern roots via my family, who settled in Newberry, South Carolina,” says Ocasio of presenting during the Piccolo Spoleto Festival this year.

The Poetry Series, like all of Piccolo, is making its return after missing the 2020 festival due to the pandemic. Ocasio’s readings will not have any direct commentary on COVID itself.

“The three books I will be presenting on were written before the pandemic,” she says when asked about the impact the last year has had on her reading here. “Artistically, though, the pandemic showed me that I should persist in my endeavor to perform my work, no matter the obstacles in my way.”

Fans of poetry left starved by the pandemic for direct interaction with readers and live sessions will no doubt be ready for this year’s COVID-safe Piccolo Spoleto.

Check out the Charleston City Paper Piccolo Spoleto 2021 Guide to learn more about the event schedule.

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