Chet’la Sebree, assistant professor of English at George Washington University, discussed poetry, her journey to becoming an author, and amplifying underrepresented voices during her presentation at Mount Saint Mary College on Thursday, April 20.
Sebree is the author of the book Field Study. She is also the author of Mistress, winner of the 2018 New Issues Poetry Prize and nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry.
In honor of National Poetry Month in April, Sebree discussed her poetic influences and her path to becoming a published author. She added that incorporating her interests outside of the English Language Arts into her poetry has been a rewarding experience.
“I’m always thinking about different ideas and how they come together,” said Sebree. “Sometimes I’m surprised that my English major and my minors in creative writing, Italian, and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies all manifested in my first book, a poetry collection called Mistress.”
Sebree wished for the book to “give voice to voiceless experiences.” And so, she focused on Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who was owned by president Thomas Jefferson.
After his wife died, Jefferson spent about two years in Paris, bringing along Hemings as a servant. It was over these years that Jefferson began an intimate relationship with Hemings, who at the time was a teenager. Jefferson enticed her to return with him from France – where slavery was illegal and she was considered a free person – in exchange for freeing the children he had fathered with her when they reached adulthood.
Sebree read several poems from Mistress, including “Paper Epithets, December 1802” and “Extraordinary Privilege, 1792.”
The talk was sponsored by the Writing Center; the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; the Kaplan Family Library; and the Division of Arts and Letters.