Heard's sojourn in Tulsa and the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre comes to a head in these poems that investigate the incident's resounding trauma with lyric and historic precision. The absence of reckoning a century after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is soldered together by a series of poems based on Heard's time living on the fringes of the city's art district and what was once Greenwood, Tulsa's thriving Black neighborhood. Heard blends survivor testimonies, myths, and present intelligence with his own lived experience and a farrago of forms to feel his way to a more intuitive truth of what's isn't documented.
Clemonce Heard was born and raised in Uptown and Algiers New Orleans. At the beginning of his senior year of high school, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and his family evacuated to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where he stayed to attend Northwestern State University. A graphic communications major and culinary arts minor, Heard spent most of his undergrad working as a cook at several local restaurants. In 2010, Heard, along with Brandi (White) Gonzales, cofounded the presently active, campus organization, Brainy Acts Poetry Society. After graduating, Heard spent nearly three years working for Apple Inc. before attending Oklahoma State University, where he received his MFA in creative writing. In 2018, Heard was awarded a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. He left the fellowship program early to accept a fellowship from the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Currently, Heard is an artist-in-residence at Sala Diaz in San Antonio.
"I have never in my life read a poet, a writer, an American artist so beautifully manipulate futurist proclamations and the minutiae of memory. This book is elite art born of Clemonce Heard’s stank genius. Tragic City is here to break the unbroken and possibly shift how place and language can work. Stunning." — Kiese Laymon
"Though the nostalgic path that is memory often catalyzes a poets’ lyric search for both language and measured rhythms which define their immediate presence in the world, longing alone will not guarantee an end to the oblivion. One must attempt, as Clemonce Heard does here in Tragic City, to confront the intractable reality that smashes illusions of any civilized code; one must “[groove] with the upright history / of a people.” Heard provides many occasions for readers to meditate on the Tulsa Race Massacre — not as an exercise in “wokeness,” but as a means of launching grace. These poems model benevolence and presence, and I for one will return again and again to their virtues and music." — Major Jackson, Judge, Anhinga-Robert Dana Prize for Poetry
"Clemonce Heard’s penetrative and muscular debut probes the blatant brutality perpetrated by white men from the towering perch of their self-imposed birthright — with unerring focus on the “tragic city” of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, in 1921, that mercenary privilege resulted in the utter decimation of the flourishing black community of Greenwood, and the deaths of hundreds of its citizens. Since the massacre is still unknown to so many, Heard urgently transports the reader into the moments of the tragedy, reviving the people and places that gave Greenwood its pulse — then moves into the disquieting present day, where the circumstances that led to that titanic loss still exist, and still resound." — Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art