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C.C. Carter is a writer, poet, performance artist and an Adjunct Professor of Contemporary Literature. She is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and after earning her MA in Creative Writing from Queens College in New York, she relocated to Chicago where she burst on the poetry scene. She has won numerous competitions around the country including: The Fifth Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Competition, and The First Annual Poetry Slam at the Lambda Book Report Literary Conference in Washington. Her work has appeared in Common Lives, Lesbian Lives, Blacklines Magazine, and has been featured in the Bailiwick Arts Center's Pride Series.
C. C. has received numerous awards for her work including the Black Heart Award from Blacklines Magazine and Wordrising, "for knowing how to turn on a crowd and build self-esteem," was nominated Female of the Year, and is featured in Venus Magazine as one of Chicago's Leading Ladies.
C. C.'s published works include Letters To My Lover and Many Phases of Womanhood. Her other artistic activities include two films: Leaving The Shadows Behind and Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 (CC played Babe).
C.C. is the Women's Component Director of A Real Read's Performance Ensemble. Since the ensemble's formation she has performed in all of their productions, both locally and nationally. C.C. also designed costuming for A Real Read presents A Real Read, Love Can Sometimes Be..., Home For The Holidays, and the Milwaukee debut of Comin' Straight At 'Cha. She has opened for Sharon Bridgforth's Root Wy'mn at the Randolph Street Art Gallery, played MC in Larry Duckett's We Heard The Night Outside at the Bailiwick Repertory, at The Lammies Literary Book Review Awards, and was the opening act for BGM recording artist Nedra Johnson.
Perhaps C. C.'s most acclaimed work is "Herstory of my hips." C. C. says: "It was a self-esteem enhancer, it was never meant to be performed. It's dedicated to women who are full figured, women who had to hear what I had to hear, and thought it was bad to be us. There is nothing wrong with having hips. My grandmother once told me, 'there is nothing wrong with carrying your history on your back, you have a legacy to history.' I use my work to touch women, if you happen to be lesbian or transgender, or whatever, however YOU identify yourself." Speaking of her philosophy of life, C.C. says: "Women are God's gift for womanity. God in all her ultimate wisdom knew that we were precious elements, so she made us to be her diamond necklaces, ruby bracelets, and onyx broaches--knowing that we were created to shine and adorn while here on earth."
She was also in the short film, Kevin's Room and scripted and adapted for stage Say Jesus and Come to Me from the novel by Ann Allen-Shockley.
CC Carter released her much-anticipated collection of poetry– Body Language (Wildheart Press).
The Rainbow was Enuf: C.C. Carter
by lorraine j. affourtit
It was the best excuse for canceling an interview appointment I had ever heard. Chicago writer and performer C.C. Carter was becoming a grandmother on the morning we were scheduled to meet. Her daughter Betty gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Feb. 8. When we finally interviewed a few days later, this was the first topic of conversation:
Lorraine: So how does it feel to be a grandmother?
C.C.: It´s good. You know, since I´ve never had children of my own, it´s my first baby, too. We´re all taking part.
L.A.:Are you close to your immediate family?
C.C.: Yes, everyone is very close. We have an apartment in our basement for my mother-in-law [Betty´s grandmother].
L.A.: It must be nice to have family so close by.
C.C.: It is.
L.A.: But you are originally from the East Coast. When did you decide to move to Chicago?
C.C.: Five years ago. I came to visit. I looked across the room, and there was Verna [C.C.´s partner].
L.A.: Was that when you met her?
C.C.: Well, we had been friends platonically for five years, then when we had both come out of our previous relationships, we said ´Let´s do it.´ I think we originally met at the old C.K.´s. Then, I´ll never forget—on June 3, 1995, she called me to congratulate me on my Master´s. That´s when the decision happened.
L.A.: And what did you think of the Midwest?
C.C.: I had lived here before when I was a girl. I was a missionary brat—my father is a minister. We moved every five years or so. But that time I didn't have a car, I didn't really get a chance to explore the city. I spent my teenage years in New York.
L.A.: How was that?
C.C.: Rough. There was a lot of character-developing experiences. I´ve always been a smart kid, intellectually, but socially, and streetwise, I learned a lot.
L.A.: How do you incorporate that history into your work?
C.C.: Well, I deal with personal experience, and often add an element of fiction. It comes from a principal truth, but I stretch it to make it play to the audience.
L.A.: Do you have any early literary influences?
C.C.: I've gotta say Toni Morrison. What she can do with one line Š . I teach contemporary literature, so I have an appreciation for Joyce and Hemingway. I look for great lines in reading. I look to be transported. I've always been interested in poetry, from a very little girl. I remember the first thing I read—my mother gave me Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. She made me recite it every night and every morning—it was taped to my mirror.
L.A.: Obviously your mother was a strong influence.
C.C.: My mother is Š well, back in the day they used to call them ´brick houses.´ She definitely had a class about her, but she could move those hips. Growing up and seeing that—you know, she was a size 18. For me, there were always issues at school, but when I came home, it was a very nurturing environment.
L.A.: Your most famous piece has got to be ´Hips.´ Every performance I go to, everyone knows that piece.
C.C.: When I wrote it—that day I had had a really bad day. It must have been something I had on. Some women don't know what they do to other women as far as perpetuating stereotypes. I came home and I was extremely angry. The piece just came out that way. Then I performed it at BLACKlines' 2nd anniversary. The reaction shocked me as much as it shocked everyone else to hear this piece. For me it was just ammunition. I was talking back.
L.A.: Do you think it's important to take part in changing the body image values for young girls and women?
C.C.: I read Audre Lorde´s Sister Outsider. That chapter about the hatred that Black women have for each other. I mean ´What is it about me that makes you so uncomfortable with yourself?´ That´s what it comes down to. It´s important, yes.
My new collection, Body Language, takes body parts that women tend to feel badly about and discusses that. My daughter just had a C-section and the first thing she said was unbelievable. She said ´I´m sorry I couldn´t have the baby the right way.´ I said ´Do you really think your baby is going to care that you have those staples in your belly?´ I just wrote a piece about that.
L.A.: Have you received an encouraging response from women, especially young women?
C.C.: Well, the young ones, I have to tell you, they are more self-confident than we were. Today we see varied body types on TV and celebrities. The women that come up to me are usually my age. And they say ´Thank you very much.´
L.A.: Tell me about your new book.
C.C.: We´re taking advanced orders. (laughs). This book is totally honest and it´s for women. And it´s for men. But it´s painful. My editor and publisher pulled some things out of me. It´s new for me, getting to the edit. It´s real—to the core. I´ve been working on this for five years. I take the woman´s body completely apart and try to turn it into something good.
LA: What are your expectations for the release of the book?
C.C.: I want to win a Lammy. (laughs). I would be crazy to say that I didn´t. At the Women of Color Writers´ Conference, there was a discussion titled ´Give Me Props While I´m Still Alive.´ Nobody should die without knowing that they made a difference.
L.A.: Who made a difference to you?
C.C.: Cheryl Clark, who has since become my mentor. I needed her to know what she did for an 18-year-old who had no Black lesbian role models. To walk past a bookstore and see in the window her book Living as a Lesbian changed my life.
L.A.: A lot of your work is extremely personal. Do you find it difficult to share work that is so charged or do you gain strength from its delivery?
C.C.: It´s hard. Like the piece that I did [a re-make of For Colored Girls Who Never Committed Suicide Because the Rainbow Was Enuf at Mountain Moving] about domestic abuse. I am a victim of woman-on-woman domestic violence. But I had always wanted a connection to it. I never want to perform a piece and say it by rote. When I get tired, something always happens. I performed ´Hips´ on the Olivia Cruise when I was just about finished with that piece altogether. Afterwards, there was a woman in a wheelchair and her lover came up to me saying ´You don´t know what you did for her. You have to keep performing this poem.´ And I was back there again. You´ve got to keep a little part of the hurt, so it´s genuine. Or a little part of the joy.
L.A.: In For Colored Girls, you touch on so many sensitive issues—racism, sexism, heterosexism, domestic abuse, butch/ femme dynamics, etc. Are you interested in confronting the inter-relationships between these issues?
C.C.: Definitely. I think that´s where the women´s component of The Real Read [a performative writers´ collective] is going with our work next time. There are a lot of people interested in the issues affecting the colored women´s community. Affecting all communities.
L.A.: What would you most like to do with your work, be it writing, performing, actingŠ?
C.C.: Just to point out the differences, but to get to the core of how we are all the same. If you are domestically abused, whatever race you are, it´s the same pain. If I´m in love, it´s not a Black love, it´s human love. I want my work to cross all cultures and all genders. I have an obligation to see myself as who I am. I write from the perspective of a woman who is of color and who happens to be a lesbian. But it doesn´t have to have mono meaning. Everyone should be able to see it. That´s what I teach my students. Everything you read, whether it is a science book or a novel, make it personal first. Once you make that connection, there´s nothing you can read that you can´t relate to.
L.A.: You are an adjunct instructor?
C.C.: Yes, I teach at South Suburban College. My students are everyone from a 16-year-old who graduated high school early to housewives that are going back to get their degree. They teach me something new every day. I´ve read some of the most horrific and some of the most brave writings.
L.A.: Would you say then that writing was your first love?
C.C.: It´s my only love. Acting is a hobby. Writing is my life. Everything else is coincidental.
L.A.: Will you keep collaborating with the artists you´ve been working with, such as the ´Poetic Provocateurs?´
C.C.: The Poetic Provocateurs was RoiAnn Phillips´ dream. We had all kinds of ethnic and cultural areas covered when we performed together, but we all could say ´This piece hurts, but we are going to do it anyway.´ We will do it again. Star Gaze wants us to perform. There´s some talk of making it professional. Taking it on the road. (laugh)
L.A.: And then perhaps you become a mentor for some young artist looking for a role model.
C.C.: Well, I don´t have that to offer yet. But give me five years, and you just wait. Had you asked me five years ago, I would never have told you I´d be where I am. But that´s another story.
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