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Season 3, Episode 6: Poet Shane McCrae

Shane McCrae won a 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in poetry for “In the Language of My Captor.” A book about freedom told through stories of captivity, the collection features both prose memoir and poems in historical persona. These include a clutch in the voice of Jim Limber, the mixed-race child Jefferson Davis adopted in the final year of the Civil War.

Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove lifted up McCrae’s fifth collection of poetry, “These voices worm their way inside your head; deceptively simple language layers complexity upon complexity until we are snared in the same socialized racial webbing as the African exhibited at the zoo or the Jim Crow universe that Banjo Yes has learned to survive in: ‘You can be free//Or you can live.’”

The Asterisk* caught up with McCrae in January 2023 from his office at Columbia University, where he teaches creative writing and edits the poetry journal Image. He lives in New York City with his wife Melissa and their daughter Eden. McCrae dropped out of high school and later earned a law degree from Harvard – the first in his family to finish college. His latest book, the memoir “Pulling the Chariot of the Sun,” publishes August 1. It describes his white grandparents’ kidnapping of him.

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