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From High School Dropout to Award-Winning Poet: Shane McCrae

This is part of our series highlighting the winners of the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf  Book Awards. Find more here.

Shane McCrae is the winner of the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for poetry for his collection "In the Name of My Captor" (Wesleyan University Press)

McCrae is a former assistant professor at Oberlin College. However, he's also a high school drop out who didn't think of returning to school initially.

"I thought it was over.  I had no interest in education at that time," he said.

Despite dropping out, McCrae had a desire to become a poet.

"When I dropped out of high school, for whatever reason based on no good evidence, I was already certain I was going to be a writer, and I was definitely certain I didn't want to do anything else," he said

He realized that to legitmize his dream he needed an education so he got his GED and eventually made his way to the esteemed MFA program at The University of Iowa.

McCrae's latest collection of poetry combines his personal history with that of a little known historical figure from the Civil War era.

While McCrae is mixed race, with his father being black and his mother being white, he was raised by his racist grandparents from an early age.

"Eventually my grandparents decided that they didn't want me to be around my father's family anymore...simply because they were black.  So they took me," he said.

McCrae didn't see his father again for more than a decade.

"Effectively, they kidnapped me from my father," he said.

In the book's poetry, McCrae compares his life with that of Jim Limber, a mixed-race child from the 19th century.

"In the last year of the Civil War he was taken by Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis' wife, from a caretaker into the Davis home," he said.

McCrae found it ironic that Limber lived in the house of the President of the Confederate States.

"It's a very strange story and one of the reasons I was attracted to it was that I'm myself mixed race, and I was raised by my white grandparents who had racial prejudices.   Although Jim Limber's situation was far more extreme than my own nonetheless I felt my experience might resonate with his," he said.

The 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards take place Thursday, September 27, at Playhouse Square's State Theater.

ideastream will stream the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony Thursday at 6 p.m. live online.

View this post on Instagram #anisfieldwolfbookawards poetry winner @akasomeguy Shane McCrae @clevefoundation For more visit Applause.ideastream.org

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Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.