Meredith Nnoka‘s poetry works at the intersection of narrative and meticulous research, but it’s also drenched in emotion. Nnoka’s 2016 collection A Hunger Called Music: A Verse History Of Black Music focuses on specific American musical genres that were founded by black artists, starting with Field Holler (a melodic cry attributed to slaves while working, and an early form of blues music) and moving all the way through the golden age of Motown.
While working to highlight the history and social context of these genres, Nnoka also inhabits a range of different personas, including Nina Simone and Robert Johnson. She gives a voice to musicians who had their work taken from them by a predatory, white-dominated music industry. Her book features a perspective from Big Mama Thornton, the original writer of the song “Hound Dog,” and a case study on how black musicians were taken advantage of. Meredith even writes from the perspective of a white man in the music industry looking to steal from budding black artists. The theme of erasure runs through this collection.
Nnoka wrote the poems in A Hunger Called Music at a time when writing about race and the effects of erasure, predatory industries, and police brutality felt necessary to her. Her ability to pinpoint moments in history that we can use as examples of its deadly repetition shows that we as a country have a lot of work to do when it comes to proper representation for black musicians and genres. Nnoka’s poetry is finely tuned and while the collection feels urgent and necessary, she also captures a sweetness in the musical landscape she’s surveying.
Nnoka is a current graduate studies student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work is focused on African American Studies, primarily the history of black music. This year she’s also one of literary magazine The Collapsar‘s Best of the Net nominees.
She sat down with us to discuss her first poetry release and her time here in Madison, and to read a couple of her poems.
Give the conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts.
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