Remembering Ota Benga through the Poetry of Carrie Allen McCray

Allen University will host a free virtual event on Thursday, October 28, 6:30pm-8:30pm to celebrate the life of Ota Benga and Columbia-based author Carrie Allen McCray’s efforts to commemorate his life through her poetry collection, Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof. The virtual event will feature a talk by Pulitzer prize-winning author Pamela Newkirk who will discuss her book Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga. SC Humanities supported this program with a Fast Track Literary Grant.

Newkirk’s book tells the true story of a young African man named Ota Benga, whose controversial exhibition as a “pygmy” at the Bronx Zoo in 1906 drew international attention to the persistence of racial problems in America. This deeply researched biography won the NAACP Image Award, the Huston-Wright Award, and was named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Root.

Currently a professor of journalism at New York University, Newkirk has published in a variety of national news forums, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation. Her journalism, along with the five books she has published to date, offer multidimensional portraits of African-American life.

The free event will also include presentations commemorating the life and work of local author Carrie Allen McCray, whose family provided Benga with a loving home following his traumatic experience as a human zoo exhibit. Prior to her death in 2008, McCray completed Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof, a collection of poems she wrote to ensure the life and trials of this “strong yet gentle man from the deep Congo forest” would be remembered for generations to come.

Narrated in the voice of Benga himself, the poems encourage readers to imagine Benga’s life, and the bizarre trials he endured, from his own perspective. National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney commended McCray’s “beautiful, haunting poems” for their ability to “craft his cautionary tale into something truly wonderful.”

The event is free and open to the public. Registration can be found at the following link:

For more information about the program contact Dr. Kevin Trumpeter, Allen University Dean of Arts and Humanities, at, 803-255-4782.

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 21-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.