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LeConté Dill, Back for the First Time

by Susan Henderson on January 29, 2018

I am so honored to introduce you to one of my personal heroes, Dr. LeConté Dill, who has something to say to those of you who feel beaten down by rejection or overlooked by the writing community. LeConté is a professor, a brilliant poet, and a powerful advocate for social justice, particularly in the area of public health.

After you read the letter she’s written to you, check out some of her poetry in berfrois and as part of the National Academy of Sciences’ Visualize Health Equity Project (I find this direct link easier). Or read this groundbreaking piece for the National Institutes of Health.

If you are a magazine editor or chapbook publisher and want to see some brilliant, important writing, or if you’re planning a local reading and want a vibrant speaker who will raise goosebumps on the arms in the audience, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

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Dear You,

I’m approaching 40, and I feel like I’m back for the first time. When I was a college student in Atlanta, the rapper Ludacris put out his “first” commercial album, entitled “Back For The First Time,” because he has been a local radio personality and had already put out numerous mixtapes and a full-length album years before this commercial release. In a similar vein to Luda, I, too, have been honing my craft for a long time. Still, at times, perhaps like Luda in 2000, I feel ‘unseen.’ The invitation to even write this blog is a reminder that, nah, folks do indeed see me! So, I offer to YOU, I see you, too, Boo!

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Even if folks don’t seem to see you or don’t see you exactly as you want to be seen, write anyway! Write like a 1st grader filling time in the space between lunchtime and recess. Write like a 5th grader turning in a book report. Write like a 10th grader submitting to the high school lit magazine editors who meet to review submissions on Tuesdays at 2pm. Write like a college student with a minor in Creative Writing, navigating your way from the science labs to the social science libraries, looking for a major, but always having a home in the English Department. Write like you’re applying for your first writing workshop, first learning the leap-and-land routine that is this writing life. Write like you’re actually sitting in that writing workshop, surrounded by strangers who emerge as writing partners and wind up as dear friends. Write by building community—going to readings, even when you’re not the one reading, buy the books that will topple off your bookshelf, meet up for “writing dates” with your folks or even with just yourself and your pen. Take the writing classes, the webinars, the workshops—the free ones that you still contribute a donation, the ones that take sliding scale payments that you save up for, the pricey ones that you crowdfund. Teach the writing classes and workshops to young folks, to peers, to elders. Whether you call yourself a “Teacher” or not, just teach your work, share your practice, learn with the community of learners you’re gathering. Write like you saw your work in a major publication for the first time, and want to feel that warm feeling in your chest again and again. Take care of yourself when you get that “no,” that “thank you, but…,” that “we’re sorry, but we had an unexpectedly large amount of submissions this year.” Pout! Definitely pout! And engage in any selfcare and squadcare practices that you lean on… or that you’ve put on your to-do list to try out. And continue to write like you claim “writer” in your bio, in your intro, on your webpage. Write for your own page, whether you call them morning pages or evening pages, a gratitude journal or a blue day journal, the back of the light bill or the corner of a cocktail napkin.

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At least that’s been my journey since I was that 1st grader, finding my way from writing as a hobby to writing as praxis and writer as identity. This writing now feels urgent. This writing now feels hopeful. This writing now can hold bold urgency and hope together. I am urgently working to publish my poetry chapbook, and hopeful that it will enter the world this year. I am urgently working on an ethnographic book manuscript that also integrates biomythography, autoethnography, and poetry, and hopeful that it will thoughtfully articulate how young people of color across the U.S. activate resilience in their lives. I am urgently developing a poetry workshop/community intervention that will engage Black girls in Central Brooklyn in reading, analyzing, writing, and sharing poetry, and am hopeful that our emerging community will conjure strategies of resistance in our everyday lives. I am urgently remembering to play!, and hopeful that I’m actually back… for the first time.

Love,

LeConté

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LeConté Dill was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and is creating a homeplace in Brooklyn with her husband Umberto. She is an alumna of Spelman College and holds graduate degrees in Public Health from UCLA and UC Berkeley. LeConté has participated in VONA Voices and Cave Canem workshops and was a 2016 Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop Fellow. She’s been published in literary journals, online magazines, and academic journals, such as Poetry Magazine, The Killens Review, Berfrois, The Feminist Wire, Very Smart Brothas, and Journal of Adolescent Research. Her creative writing, community work, and applied research focus on safety, healing, wellness, and justice, particularly for urban Black girls. Currently, LeConté is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at SUNY Downstate.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Billie Hinton January 29, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Thank you! What a wonderful read on this rainy, cold, gray, deep work day in which I am supposed to be writing (that’s what my schedule says, anyway) but have been lying fallow since the end of October, for the first time in many many years. It’s early here and I’m now thinking of my first grade self and a poem I wrote that got a lot of attention. Maybe I’ll try a poem today. :)

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 12:53 pm

So glad you’re here, Billie! I find that sometimes the deepest stories we tell need a long incubation period. They grow slowly and deeply in the back of the brain, outside of our consciousness. So you feel like you’re not getting anything done, and then a piece of the story shows itself. You go to write it down and something much bigger unlodges behind that small piece.

Isn’t there a good reason fields lie (or is it lay?) fallow? What’s the farming idea behind that?

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Billie Hinton January 29, 2018 at 2:17 pm

My understanding is that allowing fields to rest allows the soil to rejuvenate for the next planting. Sustainable farming would go further – plant cover crops that anchor the soil and add actual “nutrition” back to it. Different cover crops add different things.

I’m not a farmer but we grow vegetables and I have learned by managing our pasture (not cleared completely but has trees) and the leaves and manure and stall waste that if you mix manure and leaves with fallen branches and stall waste you end up with the most gorgeous compost, and if you compost it where you need it (bare areas, mostly) you can let it sit and then spread it right where it’s needed and end up with lovely grass for the horses. Often enough without even seeding the area. The hay has seeds sometimes and they grow and reproduce.

So maybe my own writing version of lying fallow and my intensive reading of nonfiction is a sort of planting cover crops and composting something I’ll spread later.

I think sometimes too I expect a lot of my writing time, when I could use the farming/composting metaphor instead. There’s no way to rush the compost or make the grass grow before it will grow. And I relish and enjoy all the parts of that process, but when it comes to writing, I want to make it happen and get it ready and out there.

Thanks to you and to LeConte (how to put the accent in???) for the thoughts today.

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 4:23 pm

This farming/soil metaphor feels terribly important and lifesaving, particularly right now when some part of my writer self keeps telling me to rest and recover.

I hope others are reading this, wow.

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 7:22 pm
Billie Hinton January 29, 2018 at 10:27 pm

Oh, wow, yes/yes/yes. Love that article. Thank you for linking!

Janet Clare January 29, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Wonderful and inspiring for everyone!

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Isn’t she an inspiration?! Glad you’re here, Janet.

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Caroline Leavitt January 29, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Oh, how completely inspiring. I love the way this is written, too–as if we were sitting across from each other at a cafe, talking deep into the evening. Thank you Susan, for having LeConte here. And LeConte, thank you for your gorgeous work and your gorgeous mind, and your gorgeous generousity.

love,
Caroline

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Yes! And the same can be said about you and your letter to weary writers. So glad to know such phenomenal women. Thank you both for raising other writers and opening doors.

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Kim Chinquee January 29, 2018 at 7:30 pm

What a beautiful post. And a gift. Love this: “Whether you call yourself a “Teacher” or not, just teach your work, share your practice, learn with the community of learners you’re gathering..” That’s what inspired me in the first place, and my job is to pass it on. Thank you.

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Susan Henderson January 29, 2018 at 8:27 pm

Yeah, I love that too. Glad you’re here, Kim!

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Lucinda Kempe January 30, 2018 at 1:21 am

Boo back and thank you! It is a such struggle wanting our words to be “seen” and “read” and “understood” that I can forget I’m not alone in this venture. Where would I be say if I hadn’t joined an online community called Zoetrope? Or hadn’t dared to take a high school writing class with a writer named Joe Levens? I was a diarist for three decades before I dared to imagine I could shape story. But I dared myself to go sit in this class and listen to this writer talk about something called flash fiction, Susan Orlean, Zoetrope, Duotrope and other stuff that all sounded like the moon. Well, I wouldn’t be here reading your charming letter and saying hi to some friends (Hi, Susan! Hi, Kim!) I made by joining the writing community. I just finished my first book, a memoir, and I have to stop and remind myself that it’s a miracle I got it out of my head and on paper and its been through drafts, some of it dozens of drafts. Soon I’ll have to defend it for my MFA. Dear Heavens. At age 59 I got me a graduate degree (almost – one more class to go) in words. I could almost cry. Words have soothed me since I was a little girl reading Pinkle Purr by A.A. Milne. “Tattoo was the mother of Pinkle Purr, …” I loved what you wrote: “Write by building community—going to readings, even when you’re not the one reading, buy the books that will topple off your bookshelf, meet up for “writing dates.” It reminds of something this savvy poet named Michael Klein said in one of his monologues, “Let someone else go first.” Yes, that’s right. Stop and listen to someone else’s story and give your own pen a rest, tell them you heard what they wrote and that they wrote it well, so well that you held your breath until the last word. Nice to meet you, LeConte (great name! accent ehgu) and Billie, and Janet and Caroline, too.

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Susan Henderson January 30, 2018 at 1:11 pm

No, we are not alone, thank God, or many of us would have gone mad.

I love what both of you are saying… to be an audience and a supporter and a reader as well as the one behind the pen and the microphone. Listening to other writers makes us better writers (and better people). Congratulations on going back for that degree and getting this memoir out of your head (and your bones) and on paper. Inspiring!

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Michael McIntyre January 30, 2018 at 5:28 pm

Thanks for the article and “Out of Town” was great. I did some searching and also came across “We Who Weave” at the link below:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/58661/we-who-weave

Very moving stuff.

Is there a collection of Dr. Dill’s poetry? If not, are there plans for one. I’d be interested in reading more. I plan to try and track down more of her writing from the titles on the Poetry Foundation page.

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Susan Henderson January 30, 2018 at 7:31 pm

Michael, Welcome! I would love to see a collection of her poetry too!

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