Brenda Marie Osbey is an author of poetry and prose nonfiction in English and French. Her six books include her collected poems, All Souls: Essential Poems (LSU Press, 2015); History and Other Poems (Time Being Books, 2013); All Saints: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 1997), which received the 1998 American Book Award; Desperate Circumstance, Dangerous Woman (Story Line Press, 1991); In These Houses (Wesleyan University Press, 1988); and Ceremony for Minneconjoux (Callaloo Poetry Series, 1983; University Press of Virginia, 1985).
Recently, she edited and wrote the the introduction for a
collection of poems by Gabriel Okara .
Her poems have been published in numerous journals, anthologies and collections including Callaloo; Obsidian; Essence; The Southern Review; Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now; The Made Thing: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern Poetry; 2PLUS2: A Collection of International Writing; Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology; Epoch; The American Voice; Illuminations: An International Magazine of Contemporary Writing; Southern Literary Journal; Atlantic Studies: Literary, Historical and Cultural Perspectives; Poet Lore; Renaissance Noire and The American Poetry Review. Her essays have appeared in The American Voice; The Georgia Review; BrightLeaf; Mondes Francophones; Southern Literary Journal; Creative Nonfiction and Renaissance Noire. Edited works include poetry features for Indiana Review, Poet Lore and War|Scapes, and Gabriel Okara: Collected Poems, Edited and with an Introduction by Brenda Marie Osbey (African Poetry Book Series, 2016).
For more than 25 years she has researched and recorded the history of the Faubourg Tremé, a community founded by free Blacks in New Orleans. Her series, “Faubourg Tremé: Community in Transition,” was published as a regular feature in the New Orleans Tribune (1990–97). She was research consultant for Faubourg Tremé: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans (Serendipity Films/PBS 2007), and appears as a commentator on New Orleans Black culture and history in that film and in Claiming Open Spaces (Urban Garden Films/ PBS, 1996). “Notes from France,” her series on race relations in contemporary France was a featured column in Gambit Weekly (2004). “Les Indigènes sont agités: la Nouvelle-Orléans à la Suite de l’Orage,” (“The Natives Are Restless: New Orleans in the Wake of the Storm”), an essay in response to the floods of 2005, was jointly commissioned by the Plaine Commune District of France and the Consulat Général de la Nouvelle-Orléans, and published by Médiathèques de Plaine Commune in 2007.
Studies of her work appear in such critical texts as Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region and Literature by Thadious M. Davis (University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Forms of Expansion: Recent Long Poems by Women by Lynn Keller (University of Chicago Press, 1997); The Future of Southern Letters, edited by Jefferson Humphries and John Lowe (Oxford, 1996); and such reference works as Contemporary Authors; the Oxford Companion to African American Literature (1997); the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Oxford, 1997); and Dictionnaire des Créatrices (Éditions des Femmes, 2011). Her work has been the subject of panels at conferences of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature (SSSL), Modern Language Association (MLA), College Language Association (CLA), Furious Flower African American Poetry Conference, as well as masters and doctoral theses and dissertations. A public television short feature on her work, entitled “Native Daughter” aired in 1999, and an independent film of Desperate Circumstance, Dangerous Woman has been undertaken by Urban Garden Films. Summoning Our Saints: Poetry and Prose of Brenda Marie Osbey, edited by John W. Lowe is forthcoming from LSU Press.
In spring 2005, Osbey was named the first peer-selected Poet Laureate of the State of Louisiana. During her two-year tenure of service, she toured the United States presenting weekly poetry readings, lectures and symposia advocating the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region of the United States in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
She has been a resident fellow of the MacDowell Colony, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Millay Colony, the Camargo Foundation, Maison Dora Maar, and the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and is the recipient of the 2014 Langston Hughes Award. From 2011 through 2015, she was Distinguished Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. A native of New Orleans, Osbey is Poet Laureate Emerita of Louisiana.
Osbey’s most recent collection, All Souls: Essential Poems
With visionary clarity and linguistic verve, Brenda Marie Osbey graces readers with a grand sweep through multifaceted continents of origin and multilayered histories of people brought together to create a new place and to christen a new time. All Souls: Essential Poems burrows into the actual and the imagined to lay bare a linked world where the spirit and the flesh walk and talk together and speak truths that have been hidden in bricked sidewalks and shotgun houses, buried in dusty archives and clouded memory, or lost in constrained bodies and muted dreams. In leaving false idealizations, slanted history, and convenient stereotypes behind, Osbey renders her powerful poetic voice in brilliant evocations of enigmatic women and marooned men, who are the modern legacy of the centuries old, roiling Atlantic slave trade, European explorers, and Africans captives. Erudite and accessible, these are indeed Essential Poems: resplendent in transforming aesthetics and ignited with urgent messages for today.
Thadious M. Davis
Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought
and Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Author of Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature
Litany of Our Lady
By Brenda Marie Osbey
our lady of the sidewalks
the pavements and the crumbling brick
the mortar rock and oyster-shell roads
our lady of sorrows and sadnesses
of intolerable agonies tolerated daily
of drifters grifters scrappers and scrapers
our lady of dudes and dicks and pricks
of petty thieves and of whoremongers
of piss-swelled gutters
and the grimed over windows knotty-haired children peer through
our lady of boys shot down in the dark
dying in open lots along lesser used roads leading out of town
of old men beneath interstates
sitting, standing, walking a block or so away and back
our lady of lost and found and forgotten
of what was and never will be again
of aggrieved and bereft
accused indicted surrendered up to death
of old tar-colored women in plain or checkered housedresses
telling aloud their rosaries and rosaries
and rosaries of faith
our lady of ladies
and of church-ladies-in-waiting
of young girls with hard uncertain breasts
and promises of school and school
and more school even than that
our lady of go-cups and fictionary tours
cigar bars absinthe bars
of coffee houses open all night and churches closed all day
our lady of antiques dealers dealing in saints
in crosses, weeping cemetery angels, prayer cards
in praline mammies, cigar shoppe indians
in dwarf nigger jockeys whose heads have been lopped off
one hand outstretched, one cocked at the hip
seeming not to be waiting but bargaining dealing
for the return of their heads
our lady of tired buildings listing to one side
and brick-between-cypress posts that simply will stand
as houses themselves give way around falling-down stairs
leaving only a something
a memory of a structure
of spanish-tiled roofs and batten shutters
in a swamp
of a city
of ironworks and of plaster
o, lady lady
our lady of
anything at all