15 questions with Marjory Wentworth, former SC Poet Laureate

Graphic via CHStoday

This piece is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.

Profile: Marjory Wentworth held the title of Poet Laureate of SC for 17 years. In the 1600’s, one of her ancestors accused another ancestor of witchcraft in Salem, and at the 1990 Academy Awards she was escorted in (on camera) by Raoul Juliathat’s right, Gomez from the Addams Family. 

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re asking Marjory 15 questions. Read on to find out which poem breaks her heart, which movers + shakers she’s watching, and who sees her work first

What are 3-5 things you want people to know about you?

I’m descended from families who lived in Salem during the 1600s. One of my ancestors, Ann Putnam, was the primary accuser of another ancestor, Rebecca Nurse, who was convicted of witchcraft and hanged. 

I feel that I’ve rarely devoted myself to writing; making a living and raising a family has always taken precedent in ways that should change as I get older.

When I went to the Academy Awards in 1990 (my husband co-produced a film nominated for Best Screenplay), I was escorted in (on camera) by Raoul Julia. That was amazing. 

If you’re originally from Charleston, why have you stayed here? If you’re not, what brought you here?  

Good question! My husband was offered a job here by a film production company, and I worked mostly for London publishers at the time. We were living in Brooklyn and had 2 young sons already, and we were looking to move. Charleston seemed so exotic to us. One month after we moved here, Hurricane Hugo hit. Our house was wrecked, and we lost a lot of our belongings, once we finally got back in our home (one year later) I had another son, and we just wanted some normalcy.

What do you hope Charleston is like in 10 years? 20 years?

I hope there’s affordable housing, public transportation, and a priority put on creating opportunities for the people who live here.

When did you know you wanted to be a poet + how did you make a career of your calling?

I have been writing poems since middle school, and I’ve never made a living at it. That’s rare, and it’s sad that the work I should be doing gets pushed to the side to make a living. But, I have been able to write a children’s book and non-fiction book, which has been more financially rewarding. I love teaching college. 

What’s your favorite poem? (Album? Book? Movie?)

Favorite poem is always what I’m currently obsessed with. Right now, it’s Ross Gay. Love his work. 

AlbumAchtung Baby by U2
Book – A Death in the Family by James Agee
Film – Parasite

What about Charleston inspires your poetry?

The landscape and the history tied to slavery – both of these things figure prominently in my work.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

It’s about the only thing that makes me tired!

Who do you show your work to first? 

My husband Peter 

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? 

My friend Peter Wyn was killed in a skiing accident when we were teenagers, and the first poem I remember writing was a kind of eulogy for him.

What life advice or epiphany would you share with others that you’re thankful you learned?  

Say yes, when opportunity knocks. Most of the greatest opportunities come around once – don’t let fear keep you from following your dreams. 

What 3 people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?

Bryan Stevenson – greatest living American.
Rebecca Nurse – my ancestor who was hanged as a witch, but never lost her faith in God.
My father- He died about 50 years ago, and there’s so much I want to talk to him about. 

Name 3-5 other local leaders/influencers/movers + shakers you’re watching.

Feiden Santana – the young man who took the video of Walter Scott’s murder in North Charleston
Rev. Kylon Middleton, Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s best friend.
Fletcher Williams (artist) – I think he is beyond brilliant! 

What poem breaks your heart?

Pablo Neruda “Tonight I can Write the Saddest Lines” 

What makes you laugh?

Billy Collins poems. Dave Chappelle. My dog and my cats. 

Looking back at your career + your life, what are a few of the major highlights? 

When Congressman Jim Clyburn read my poem “One River, One Boat” Into the Congressional Record and made a speech about it. It does not get better than that.

Reading the poem “In the Shadows of Nuremberg” in the courtroom in Nuremberg where the trials were held (I was asked to do this for the 70th anniversary of the closing of the Nuremberg Trials.) 

Reading “Holy City” (poem I was asked to write after the shooting at Mother Emanuel) at Mother Emanuel Church and many times for the families and friends who lost loved ones there. 

Being appointed Poet Laureate of SC!