Professor spotlight: Karisma Price

Karisma+Price+is+a+Cave+Canem+fellow+from+New+Orleans+currently+teaching+at+Tulane+University.

Courtesy of Tulane University

Karisma Price is a Cave Canem fellow from New Orleans currently teaching at Tulane University.

Mike Weilandt, Contributing Reporter

“New Orleans is a constant reminder that no matter where I go—despite destruction, distance, and time—just like my city, I am strong, resilient, and moving forward,” Tulane professor Karisma Price wrote in an essay for Rookie Magazine as an undergraduate at Columbia University. Six years later, Price has returned to New Orleans, teaching poetry and creative writing at Tulane. 

Price is an associate professor and one of Tulane’s only in-house creative writers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University and a Master of Fine Arts in the same field from New York University. She also experiments with photography and filmmaking. Price co-founded the Unbnd collective, which aims to create a safe space for Black writers and other writers of color.

Price joined the Tulane faculty soon after she completed graduate school and is currently in her second year teaching. She is a New Orleans native, and her experiences growing up in the city as an only child and living through Hurricane Katrina shaped her path to poetry and are referenced in her work.

“I was really shy growing up, and I feel like I kept a lot of emotions in and to myself, so I feel like I’m much more articulate on the page,” Price said of her childhood and beginnings as a poet. “Writing was a way for me to really express myself.”

Her use of writing as an outlet for emotion, combined with her parents’ constant storytelling, turned her into a writer, according to Price. “I grew up hearing a lot of stories about friends and family,” she said. Such stories made a strong impression on the young Price. “I always wanted to capture that kind of wonder. I feel like listening to those stories activated my imagination and my desire to tell a story.”

Once her innate desire to express herself was “activated” by these stories, Price was primed to enter the world of poetry. One more push came in the form of a creative writing class during her seventh grade year at Lusher Charter School. Soon after, she became certain that poetry was not only her passion but her career path as well. 

Price finished her schooling in New Orleans and headed for New York to study creative writing at Columbia University, followed immediately by an MFA from NYU. In pursuing these degrees, Price was given a new perspective on her hometown, a perspective birthed by distancing herself from New Orleans.

“I felt that because I was physically away, that gave me distance to reflect and look back. A lot of my work is about New Orleans, family, the South and Blackness,” Price said of her time in New York. “It made me realize how unique New Orleans is, and it gave me a new perspective on not only the city, but growing up and becoming an adult there. There’s this New Orleans I have in my head, and I don’t think it’s completely here anymore.”

Hurricane Katrina is consistently among the New Orleans imagery in Price’s work. Price was just 10 years old when the storm hit, and she recalls evacuating to Dallas with her family. Using her chosen form of expression as an outlet for these recollections, she has produced such poems as “Can’t Afford Sadness at a Time Like This.” This poem, inspired by a visit with her cousin, and which took her almost four months to draft, evokes imagery of Katrina, as well as the neighborhood she grew up in and the characters who roamed it:

“…We can’t afford sadness on this wide street of abandoned

school buses where we both stole

our first sip of Crown, where a neighbor boy crashed

my cousin’s dirt bike into the tree and she cursed him

out like a drunk uncle…”

“Abandoned school buses — I guess that’s a symbol of pre-Katrina. There are a lot of houses that still have the markings with the X’s in spray paint from the national guard, there are houses that are really bloated and dilapidated that haven’t been renovated … I see that, physically there are still things that reflect Katrina. So there are symbols in my work that reflect how I feel about pre- versus post-Katrina,” Price said. 

Also described in this poem are those she was raised around, about whom she is often cognizant. “I’m also always thinking about kinship, whether it’s literal family or friends who you might consider as family,” Price said. “I feel like we owe a lot to each other, as humans.”

Race plays an important role in Price’s work, as well. She draws from her own experiences, as well as the Black history of New Orleans, in much of her work.

“When I think of New Orleans, the first thing I think of is Blackness,” Price said. “I think there’s always a hint at race in my work. I feel like I have no choice but to think like that. I’m always thinking about it.”

Price is not limited to one form of expression. In addition to her poetry, she is passionate about photography and filmmaking. Currently, she is working on a full-length screenplay. As a multimedia creator, Price believes that her background in poetry links her to these other artistic mediums.

“I’m interested in film, so sometimes I think I use poetry almost like a camera lens … with poetry, you capture images and little vignettes,” she said. 

When Peter Cooley, a poet and former professor of English, retired from Tulane after 35 years, the university found itself with a poet-shaped hole in their faculty. Price seized the opportunity to return home. “I wanted to learn more about my city. There’s so much I don’t know about New Orleans, even though I was born and raised here,” she said. 

Price is currently teaching three courses in Tulane’s English Department on creative writing and advanced poetry, in addition to working on a new book of poems and a film about Mardi Gras. She enjoys teaching and finds her interactions with students, something she is sad to have partially lost to the pandemic, gratifying.

“I get to be that person that shows them how to enter the poem, and the rest is up to them,” Price said. “Even if they just start to read for fun or as a hobby in their downtime, that’s good enough for me.”

You can see more of Price’s poetry and other projects, including her films and photography, as well as the Unbnd Collective, on her website: https://www.karismaprice.com/