Just a couple months into her tenure as Executive Director at Cave Canem, Nicole Sealey knows what’s at stake: her sanity, for one. A successful poet herself, Sealey now heads the foundation, formed in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady as a home for the underrepresented voices of African American poetry. Coming to a position in the arts under an administration that is going to make it difficult to retain funding, it will help that she understands the need for the form first hand, and her commitment to working in the service of black artists will further Cave Canem’s post as an incubator and enclave for the community.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work?
As a graduate student, I interned at the Studio Museum in Harlem for a year. From then on, I knew I wanted to work in service of black artists.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake.
I’m a poet and, as of this writing, I’m less than a month into my appointment as Executive Director at Cave Canem Foundation, an organization founded by poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady to remedy the under-representation of black poets. It’s too early in my tenure to say what my day-to-day entails, but I know what’s at stake. As a poet, what’s at stake is my sanity. Poetry is the closest thing to an answer I have for why you and I exist. As Executive Director, what’s at stake is democratized visibility, without which we cease to exist.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
The work itself—poetry and service.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge?
I was recently told that my love poem to my husband, “Object Permanence,” was read at the wedding of two poets whom I adore. This information gave me great joy. I couldn’t have written that poem (and other poems) without the tools given to me at Cave Canem. The new administration seeks to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides critical funding to creative communities like Cave Canem. It is a challenge, to say the least, to live in an America that now seems to devalue the arts.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
When it comes to inclusivity, the field has much work to do. Cave Canem Foundation will continue to be on the front line of that work.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Derrick Adams, Angel Nafis, Morgan Parker, William Villalongo, Mahogany L. Browne.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.