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New Poetry Collection Explores Growing Up Black In The Midwest

Caleb "The Negro Artist" Rainey has been a fixture on the Midwestern spoken word scene for several years, and has performed both regionally and internationally.

Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey’s poetry collection “Look, Black Boy” begins with this dedication: “To everyone who showed me that I was meant to be more than dead.”

The book is Rainey’s first published work, and it’s filled with searing, enlightening poems that capture the complexity of growing up Black in the Midwest. The poems alternate between addressing the white audience that surrounded Rainey’s upbringing in Columbia, Missouri and the Black boys who reflect his own experience.


Credit Cover art, Shelby Campbell
Look, Black Boy is the first published collection from poet and spoken word artist, Caleb "The Negro Artist" Rainey

“I love that duality because that is a lot of my life,” Rainey says. “Trying to figure out what’s given to me, or what is assigned to me, which is my race, and how other people perceive that and how I’m going to have to learn to perceive that myself.”

Rainey, who is based in Iowa City, publishes under “The Negro Artist,” a name borrowed from Langston Hughes’ essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”


On the back of “Look, Black Boy,” he features a quote from Hughes’ work:

“It is the duty of the young Negro artist [...] to change

through the force of his art that old whispering

'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people,

to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro -- and beautiful.'”

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe is joined by Rainey for a look at the spoken word artist’s first published poetry collection and for a few readings from the book.


(a selection from “Look, Black Boy” by The Negro Artist)

This that Black Boi Joy, that running

wild with a free smile, that playing

The dozens with my cousins, that top

five debate -- where the culture’s at stake -- that watching

Dragon Ball Z, knowing each line

in the scene that dreaming of better

like Wakanda forever, that whatchu mean?

i’m doing me, that laugh too loud.

even in a crowd, that giving

dap with a pat on the back, that currency

everyone wants from me, say it don’t

belong to me. the world wants to swallow

me, but they choke

on my royalty. this is my inheritance

can’t nothing stand against

This Black Boi Joy

This program originally aired on May, 30, 2019

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa