C.C. Carter is a good example of someone who did the “do”, moved forward, and showed up, with the consequence being that people came out of the universal woodwork to help her along on her path.
C.C. is a former “page poet” turned spoken word artist. Always writing, C.C. earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from Queens College in New York. After graduation, she returned to Chicago, where she was born.
One night, (now defunct) lesbian bar Paris Dance was featuring an open mike night. She entered performing her work, and won the competition.
The next week she was invited back as the Feature performer, and as fate would have it, in the audience was Byron Stewart, Founder of “A Real Read”, Chicago’s premiere African American LGBT performance ensemble. “A Real Read” was male-heavy (as in 100%), and Stewart wanted to change that. As C.C. puts it, “he pulled me offstage and taught me theater techniques and all those sorts of things.” A performance artist was born.
Soon after, she put her work in print and went on a bookstore tour. This was when, she says, “Everything just blew up. Most spoken word artists don’t have a written component, so people could both buy my book and see me perform.”
By incorporating music with her words, and then putting out a C.D., she was able to cross over into the Women’s Festival circuit. And she has been in demand ever since.
How does she describe her initial success? C.C. says that a lot of her work deals with the full figure woman and eroticism, and hence a lot of the women took to her, a non-waif African American lesbian, who was talking about herself in ways not often heard before, at least onstage.
And it’s not just audiences who support her. So far, C.C. has been honored in more ways than can be included here. On the day I spoke with her, Alderman Tom Tunney had just nominated her for the Trailblazer Award in Arts & Culture in the LGBT community. Her work was chosen for inclusion in the anthology Best Lesbian Erotica 2000; and in 2002 she was both a “Lammy” finalist for her book “Body Language” (for best lesbian poetry), AND inducted into the prestigious Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame.
Not one to rest on her laurels, here are just a few of the projects C.C. is currently working on.
She is actively involved in her performance art firstly. You can catch her at the Michigan Womyn’s Fest in a few weeks, when she will be hosting the Women of Color Poetry Slam on Saturday, adjacent to the Day Stage.
She is also Executive Director of Pow-Wow Inc (Powwowchicago.org), a Chicago performance organization that gives voice to independent women artists who don’t get a chance at national exposure, as well as “the men in our lives who support women’s issues”.
C.C. lives in Garfield on the West Side, where she is Director of Bethel Cultural Arts Center, conceptualizing and building cultural training programs, performances, an ensemble theatre, and the like.
She’s also a Cultural Committee Chair for the Gay Games Chicago, in charge of all things women, including social and literary components.
Asked what she likes about the lesbian community in Chicago, C.C. answered succinctly, “that we have one.” But what she doesn’t like so much is the “kind of division amongst the different cultures.” She sees that women from the south and west sides have supported women’s events on the north side, but that the reverse isn’t always true. And she points out that in the case of the Gay Games, some of the most popular events, such as women’s softball and basketball, are going to be held on the South Side.
On a happy and personal note, C.C. has begun a brand new adventure – she and her life partner have recently become the parents of 8-month old Carter Mitchell Harris, whom they adopted at just one month.
And last month, C.C. recorded a performance piece for Millennium Park. Asked to create an audio touring accompaniment for one of the park’s landmarks, she chose the Bridge.
I like that C.C. did the bridge, because I think it is very fitting. Her Women’s PowWow includes men, her role in the Gay Games will ensure broader inclusion of women, she was the first woman involved in “A Real Read”, and she hankers for North Siders to come together with their sisters (and brothers, I’m sure) from the south and west. A bridge indeed.
A snapshot of C.C. in 10 words or less:
Literate, Reaching, Bold, Jazzy, Brash, Loyal, Articulate, Idealistic, Substantial.