Headshot of Candace G. Wiley

Candace​ Wiley​ was born in S.C., graduated with her B.A. from Bowie State University, an H.B.C.U. in M.D., her M.A. from Clemson University, and her M.F.A. at the University of South Carolina. She is co-founding director of The Watering Hole, a nonprofit that creates Harlem Renaissance-style spaces in the contemporary South, and she often writes in the mode of Afrofuturism, covering topics from black aliens, to mutants, to mermaids. She is a Vermont Studio Center Fellow, Lighthouse Works Center Fellow, Fine Arts Work Center Fellow, Callaloo Fellow and former Fulbright Fellow to San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, a town that was founded by West Africans who had escaped from Cartagena slavery. (The people have their own language and customs that trace back to the Bantu and Kikongo in West Africa.) Her work has been featured in Best American Poetry 2015, Prairie Schooner, The Texas Review, and Jasper Magazine, among others. She has recently left a teaching position at Clemson University to begin the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. Wiley is now living, writing, and helping direct The Watering Hole from her new home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Artistic Statement

My poetry places interstellar space, deep sea, mythology, mutantism, and speculative futures as part of the African diaspora and in some cases, part of the Black Atlantic. The collected work 1) follows the narrative of displaced mythological or interstellar species who must prove their racial/species authenticity while still assimilating to a dominant culture, 2) uses mutantism to examine contemporary cases of excessive force, and 3) revises historical events in ways that empower vulnerable people. I do this by invoking African mermaids, Star Fleet officers, mutants, and the Flying African. This allows me to integrate historical and current events into fantastical and science fictional spaces. 

Igbo Landing is a rich historical moment that I explore fantastically and science-fictionally in several poems. The legend is that 73 Africans from the Igbo ethnicity take over a slaving ship and walk into Georgia sea island waters either transforming into vultures and flying home, walking across the ocean back to what is present day Nigeria, or drowning to escape slavery and haunting the lands ever since. I expand this by including mermaids, Klingons, and Igbo deities in this narrative. 

This approach allows me to re-envision the historical moment in a way that assumes the oral narratives are as true as the "official" history; it helps me draw correlations between the policing and fear of Klingon behavior in Star Trek with black bodies in the contemporary United States; it also allows me to imagine black bodies as mutating beings, providing a new way to consider black unrecognizability and dehumanization; and it takes the “monster” or “demon” (as Darren Wilson called Michael Brown) out of the racial imaginary and positions it in poetic reality as the controllable ability to mutate---not just in white imagination, but in a functional black reality. These are strategies that bring the alienness of the other to the fore and create or merge alternate universes with brutal contemporary and historical lived realities.