Author Archives: Lee Chilcote

David Sedaris on my new book


My sister, Katherine Chilcote, went to see David Sedaris give a reading in Seattle earlier this year, and she bought me this book. She bent his ear about my poetry book, The Shape of Home, and so — to make her go away, I imagine — he wrote the inscription here.

Generally, I’m a big fan of Sedaris’ writing. Certain pieces, especially about not fitting in as a kid, gender nonconformity, and his strained relationship with his dad, really resonate with me.

This year, I’ve been teaching an intro class on personal essay writing at Cleveland Public Library’s Carnegie West branch. The class is big – there are over 50 people signed up, and typically 20-30 show up each month. We talk a lot about truth in nonfiction, and what you can and can’t do. The stories they write are powerful and amazing. They don’t need to make shit up.

So I was disappointed to find out Sedaries does. In his piece “This American Lie” in the New Republic, Alex Heard writes about one of my favorite essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day, “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities,” in which young Sedaris takes guitar lessons from a midget named Mr. Mancini: “Too bad none of it happened. Well, one thing happened. Sedaris did briefly take guitar lessons from a little person, but he made up Mancini’s style, quirks, and speeches, and he invented the moment when Mancini thought young David was making a pass at him.”

So much for your writing heroes. But what a cool inscription!

How My Mother Taught Me to Be a Feminist Dad

Lee-768x576Up today at Role Reboot, the online magazine for “life, off script,” is my ooey-gooey, ultra-TMI story of the horrible accident my mom had when I was a kid and how it changed our family. I wrote this in part to honor my mother, the greatest non-complainer in the history of tough mothers. I cry every time I think of this memory — and then I remember she rarely did. Thanks, Tuni Chilcote, for teaching me what it means to be strong. Read it here:…/details/2017-05-mother-taught-femi…/

Raising a daughter in the era of Trump in Role Reboot

14322419_10154656021585572_7462228064084727172_nHere’s the piece I wrote about the runup to the election and telling Emily that Trump won on November 8th. Although I’m still afraid, I’m cautiously optimistic, like many on the left, that Trump’s bad management and waffling will blow his chances at destroying Obama’s legacy.

“Despite eight years of progress, the racist, sexist America that I grew up in wasn’t actually gone, it was just waiting in the wings.”

“The Shape of Home” launches Saturday with Cleveland Public Poetry reading

17342869_1462874910421108_5650548452123896456_nI’ll be reading from my newly-released chapbook of poems at the downtown branch of Cleveland Public Library this Saturday, April 8th at 1 pm, with an open mic to follow. Help me celebrate my debut publication and enjoy refreshments and work by other Cleveland poets. The library is located at 325 Superior Ave. (2nd floor, Literature Department / Ohio Center for the Book).

Lit Cleveland is also offering a free poetry workshop with Damien Ware that morning. It takes place from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm, also in the Lit Dept. / Ohio Center for the Book.

I’ll also be reading at Mac’s Backs on Coventry with Damien Ware on Wed. April 12th from 7-8 pm, with an open mic to follow.

Many thanks to Amy Dawson and Evone Jeffries of Cleveland Public Library for setting up the poetry reading, and also to Suzanne DeGaetano for hosting me at Mac’s.

Lessons from AWP, the largest conference for writers in the country

Thanks to Karen Schubert and Liz Hill of Lit Youngstown, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about Great Lakes literary arts organizations and how place informs purpose at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington D.C. last week.

The other panelists were David Hassler of the Wick Poetry Center; Kelly Fordon from Lit Detroit; and Janine Hairston from the Indiana Writers’ Consortium. I loved learning what other literary arts centers around the country do, and what lessons we might learn and borrow from them.

I also got to interact with other lit arts centers during the rest of the conference. Other highlights included seeing Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, give a keynote on Thursday night, having dinner with friends Cathy Barber and Mimi Plevin-Foust, and checking out Capital Bikeshare as I rode back and forth to my friend’s house off H Street.

It was fun to see all of the activity happening in DC, including many cranes in the air.

Oh, Man, Even the Birds in this City

santa_ana_river_review_square_logoA year or two ago I saw a robin’s nest perched on a stop light in my neighborhood and thought, “I’ve gotta write about that.” I think that several times a day and nothing comes of it, but this one stuck around. I named the poem “Oh, Man, Even the Birds in this City.” Here’s the first stanza:

“At West 58th and Bridge / an empty nest sits on the crossbar / of the stop light, / a patchwork bowl of / mud, sticks and grass.”

I thought the nest was abandoned but then I saw birds in it. The cars flew past and no one noticed. The birds making a nest in the intersection seemed like a metaphor for making it in our tough, resilient city.

“A few days later, / a robin fluffs her feathers while / cars and trucks whiz-blam by. / Why so determined to settle here?”

I wrote it, workshopped it once or twice, and kept sending it out. Recently it was published by the Santa Ana River Review, the literary magazine of the University of California at Riverside. Check out the poem here (it’s on p. 98). 

Contributing to ‘A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City’

raceanthologycover2When I saw the call for submissions in 2015 for “A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City,” out now from the City Club and Guide to Kulchur Press, I knew what I wanted to write about. I grew up in an in between time when racial hope and the legacy of racial segregation were equally present. The elementary school I attended, Roxboro in Cleveland Heights, was 50/50 black-white, but on the other hand the tracking system there started early. Racism was a heavy topic in our household, as my grandfather on my mom’s side came from Texas and carried prejudiced attitudes with him when he came to work as an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. Growing up, I heard stories from my mom about my grandfather forbidding her from playing with black children, even as I made black friends at my school.

“When I became friends with Lonnie, a black classmate, I asked my mom if I could invite him home for lunch (back then, kids with stay-at-home moms could do this, an anachronism in our test-centric world),” I write in my piece, which is called Roxboro. “I remember eating peanut butter and jelly with him and giggling in our basement playroom as we bounced around on a giant ball.”

Now I live in Cleveland with my wife, Katherine, and our three children. Our two school age kids attend Campus International, a CMSD school. But we are protected by the mantle of privilege, and racism persists: “My hopefulness was punctured last year when I learned of Tamir Rice’s death. Home with my kids on Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t stop clicking on the iterative headlines on As I watched the video of Timothy Loehman pulling onto the lawn and killing the 12-year-old boy two seconds later, I felt a black pit open in my stomach and fell into it.”

I just picked up my copy of A Race Anthology a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to digging into it. There are many, many fine contributors here, including the likes of RA Washington, Sharon Holbrook, Mary Weems, Ali McClain and others. Check it out here.

Also, read Amy Hanauer’s wonderfully written piece on about it here.