Brenda Marie Osbey

  • Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Library Fellow, 2021-22

Headshot of Brenda Marie Osbey

Brenda Marie Osbey is an author working in English and French. Her seven books include her collected poems, All Souls: Essential Poems (LSU Press, 2015); History and Other Poems (Time Being Books, 2013; Langston Hughes Award, 2014); All Saints: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press, 1997; American Book Award, 1998). She is the author also of a  Kongo-New Orleans opera triptych, including Sultane au Grand Marais (Rites & Reason Theatre, 2011).

In addition to online features by the Academy of American Poets and Poetry Society of America, her poems have been published in numerous journals, anthologies and collections. She has twice been been commissioned to compose works by the University of Virginia: by the Carter G. Woodson Institute in 2011 and the President’s Commission on Slavery & the University in 2013. In 2017, she was commissioned by the College of William & Mary to compose a work commemorating the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the college. 1967: On the Semicentenary of the Desegregation of the College of William & Mary was published in a limited edition the following year and reissued in 2019. The closing line of 1967 is engraved in the commemorative sculpture Sankofa Seed (Steve Prince, 2020), erected in the Legacy Tribute Garden (W&M, 2021).

Her essays on art and culture have appeared in The American Voice; Georgia Review; BrightLeaf; Mondes Francophones; Southern Literary Journal; Creative Nonfiction and Renaissance Noire. “‘Les Indigènes sont agités : la Nouvelle-Orléans à la Suite de l’Orage,” (“‘The Natives Are Restless’: New Orleans in the Wake of the Storm”), written in response to the floods of 2005, was jointly commissioned by the Plaine Commune District of France and the Consulat Général de la Nouvelle-Orléans, and published by Médiathèques de Plaine Commune in 2007.

For more than thirty years she has researched and recorded the history of the Faubourg Tremé, a community founded by free Blacks in New Orleans. Her series, “Faubourg Tremé: Community in Transition,” was published as a regular feature in the New Orleans Tribune (1990–97). She served as research consultant for Faubourg Tremé: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans (Serendipity Films/PBS 2007), and appears as commentator on New Orleans Black culture and history in that film and in Claiming Open Spaces (Urban Garden Films/PBS, 1996). “Notes from France,” her series on race relations in contemporary France, was a featured column in Gambit Weekly (2004).

A native of New Orleans, Osbey was named the first peer-selected Poet Laureate of the State of Louisiana in 2005. From 2011 through 2015, she was Distinguished Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. In autumn 2019, she was Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Osbey's current project “GEOGRAPHY: Narrative Poems” examines themes of exploration/exploitation, venture/adventure, mapping/appropriation, encounter/conquest, settlement/colonization, naming/sub-duing in the making of the New World. She will be working on this project during her time as the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Library fellow.