Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder (ISBN (13-digit): 978-0-9718214-3-9, ISBN (10-digit): 0-917182437, retail $14.95). Softcover. 122 Pgs. 

Synopsis:  With a keen perceptivity to history, culture and complex human emotions, Karen S. Williams, has crafted Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder, an epic exploration in 42 poems capturing real and symbolic injustices and medical advancements the African-American body has experienced from slavery through contemporary times. Readers will find in it poems based on the true stories of historic figures such as African-American clergymen, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones; noted physician and blood transfusion researcher, Dr. Charles Drew; athlete and entrepreneur, Ervin “Magic” Johnson; and neurosurgeon, Dr. Benjamin Carson, among others. Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder highlights the power and complexity of health crises that affect communities of color the world over, and a need for what Williams calls a “communal discontentedness” in the hearts of its readers and hearers to arise in whatever capacity they can to help ameliorate these crises.

A Quote From Elegy's. Publisher - Aquarius Press

Heather Buchanan-Gueringeur, author and publisher of Aquarius Press says “Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder is consequently and unequivocally a must-have book for today’s reader. It’s ideal for helping teachers, academics, and leaders across the spectrum introduce or reintroduce creatively manner delicate issues of race and inequity to their students and constituents respectively. 

“An added plus about it is that its poems are partially based on research Williams, a minority health programs developer in local public health, and Veronica Wilkerson Johnson, a colleague at the University of Michigan, conducted to write an article on African-American health disparities for the Harvard Health Policy Review in 2002 titled “Eliminating African-American Health Disparity via History-based Policy.” The article was part of her work as a six-year planning consultant to State of Michigan’s Annual Senator Raymond Murphy African-American Health Initiative. The article, now used in college health and medical programs across the U.S., was quoted in the Washington Post. That said, Aquarius Press is all the more proud to present the creative fruit of Ms. Williams’ research to the American public.”

 Review kits for Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder, author photos, and more are available upon request by calling Aquarius Press Offices, 313-515-8122, or emailing Aquariuspress@gmail.com.

Potential Media Angles and Potential Conference/Workshop Presentation Themes:

African-American history; Civil/human rights; racism and discrimination
Notions of theology, justice and healing
African-American Health, Health Disparities and Multiculturalism, Cultural Competency
The Medical Humanities (Arts-in-Medicine, and Literature and Medicine) and Multiculturalism
Poetry and Social Justice, Social Responsibility and the Arts
Arts and Public Policy, Arts audiences and Society

Why Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder was written (Author Quote):  Ours is a world where so many are hurting, particularly communities of color,” says Williams. “I hope these poems will encourage readers to in some way eradicate the moral, emotional, physical, cultural, social, political, and spiritual contempt that produces inequities in health, health status and health outcomes of racial and ethnic groups. Poet Eli Siegel once said, “When a person has contempt, he or she is cold to the feelings of other people. This is the beginning of all injustice, in personal lives and on a massive international scale.” Hopefully, Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder will be viewed as just one person’s way of helping to correct that.

"I believe that life and history, personal and communal history, offers each of us a key topic or experience or concern that we confront or confronts us that ought to stir what some call our “holy discontent”. That topic or experience or concern is that do-or-die thing that just kicks us in the gut, that up-in-your face thing that lets us know in our heart of hearts that we must do something. Even in small measure, if that’s all we can do, to see others gripped by this seemingly insurmountable “whatever it is”, wholed, healed and contributing to the betterment of our world and theirs, and to their maximum ability. 

Knowing that historically that the longevity of the black community, my community, has had its health – in definitions of the word - imperiled by historical and cultural events, many of them out of their control, and or many that have contributed to their own vulnerability? That really bothers me. And it should. Higher illness and mortality rates in the black community, in all populations, to me, are a form of bondage. And bondages don’t need to be broken. Bondage like this needs to be destroyed, obliterated to the point that the chains that bind cannot be put back together again, and those once bound are delivered into a state of or quest for wholeness! 

In my eyes, everyone living, everyone who wants to live, everyone who wants themselves, their children and descendants to live wholly and abundantly, has a right to be freed from whatever binds and imprisons them health-wise and otherwise. Being privy to this kind of freedom and justice is the only way they can live, and live long enough, to be who they were put here to be. That said, I like to think that Elegy is my articulation of what has historically ailed our community to the point that the words and the history and sentiment behind these poems will stir the holy discontent of people who want to see America, Americans, and vulnerable the world over, healed.

Sample Author Interview Questions:

  • .Why did you write this book?
  • When, how, and why does history, especially African-American history, influence your writing?
  • Though these poems document rather painful historical experiences of African-Americans for the most part, do you think they are universal enough to touch a wider audience, and their concerns about healthcare issues? How?
  • Does your love of writing about medical themes stem from a specific medical experience you’ve had?
  • You believe that compassion and collaboration are key to ameliorating the African-American health crisis. How so?
  • What methods did you use to structure and shape these poems? 
  • What effect are you aiming for when you write poems like these?
  • You have a professional background in public health. How has your work in that field, or others, shape the development of this book? 
  • What kinds of institutional and social changes do you think are needed to ameliorate the African-American health crisis?
  • How do the Arts contribute to the delivery of sound health and medical services?
  • You believe these poems are a “cry for deliverance?” for African-Americans and non-African-Americans.  What do you mean by that?
  • You clearly love history. When and how did your love for history begin? 

About Karen
Marine Life
Elegy/Marine Samples
Weekend America
Weekly Blog


Extended review by poet, Missy McEwen, at Immunization Against Invisibility. Click here to read it. 

This focused first collection chronicles 300 years of African American medical experience, primarily exposing the outrage of health disparities, but also highlighting the groundbreaking work of Black physicians. Composed of both individual and collective histories, and meticulously researched, it is as absorbing as a novel, but its ultimate aim is justice. Williams says it best in her Author’s Note: Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder works to “remind readers of the complexities, concerns and needs of the Black body, and how this and other bodies of color, bodies fearfully and wonderfully made, are worthy of protection, personal and community longevity, and quality affordable healthcare.” Her poems achieve this goal mightily, and they speak with many voices.

--University of Arizona Poetry Center

Karen S. Williams’ unique narrative poems tell the story of the African-American medical experience through historical events and figures. Her lyrical, fluid writing bring little-known stories to our attention, and what compelling stories these are. These poems go beyond evoking emotion and expose us to a different perspective on medical history….

--Anna Reisman, MD, Deputy Editor of Creative Writing and Book Reviews, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Assistant Professor, Yale (University) School of Medicine

In Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder, the poet Karen S. Williams commits not only to the reclamation of the Black body, but also, to literary excellence through skillfully crafted elegies, epistle’s and poetic verse, stimulating the imagined into the real, transferring witness into historicity. Williams is a bard whose lyric delivers potent poetic narrative. Here is a poet of exceptional talent.

—Randall Horton, author of The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag Press) and a Cave Canem Fellow.

The poems in Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder are grounded in history and the realities of the human body. Author, Karen S. Williams, looks at the cruelty of oppression and 
enslavement, but she insists on treating each character as an individual. Even when most stark, these are poems of healing.

--Dawn McDuffie, author of Carmina Detroit (Adastra Press)

“Karen S. Williams is one of the finest poets writing in Metro Detroit today. Her sensitive images and strong metaphors take her  readers deep into the human experience and struggle to better understand our  whole humanity and our historical achievements. We are blessed to have such a  poet amongst us in Motown.  She is able to take on difficult topics like race, history and medicine and translate them all into readable, contemplative  moments of serious poetry.  I love Ms. Williams work. Her poetry  challenges us to think long and hard about all our yesterdays and to face  the challenges of all our tomorrows.
--M.L. Liebler, author of Wide Awake in Someone Elses's Dream (Wayne State University Press) 

(As of May 28, 2008)

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