Harrowing poems from a dark corner of American history by the winner of the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry

Haunted by the voices of those committed to the notorious Virginia State Colony, an epicenter of the American eugenics movement in the first half of the twentieth century, this evocative debut marks the emergence of a poet of exceptional poise and compassion, who grew up in the shadow of the Colony itself. Molly McCully Brown’s poems are a chorus of women who’ve long been denied a voice and, disarmingly, those who witnessed—or inflicted—their agony. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown immerses herself in this devastating past, close to home on so many levels—at first “spastic, palsied, and off-balanced. . . taking crooked notes,” then seeming to embody the patients in the Colony’s dormitories, infirmaries, and notorious blind room (site of some of its most heinous maltreatments). Yet for all the horrors it channels, Brown’s visionary book uplifts through communion: “Another truck comes loud up the road / bearing another girl,” she writes. “There is whatever it is / you’re calling to. There is / however it is you call.” In her poems, Brown listens to the callers from a dark past and takes on their anguish.


“Molly McCully Brown’s first book of poems, ‘The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded,’ is…beautiful and devastating.” — The New York Times

“Brown’s humbling and heartbreaking poems restore dignity to lives sacrificed in the name of perfection.”—Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“This is nothing less than a revelatory debut that reveals how to stitch something undeniably beautiful out of immense pain and solitutde.”—Ada Limòn

“What fury and furious restraint, what elemental honesty crackles in this book’s spare, strong, skilled lines. It is one of the most astonishing debuts I can remember.”—Beth Ann Fennelly

“Her poems imply whole novels and biographies and autobiographies—the ephemeral and etermal lifetimes of those who speak here.”—Laura Kasischke