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The Art of Naming My Pain


A collection of poetry, prose, and collage by Kellie Richardson ISBN: 9781733037518 Published: Oct. 17, 2019 In an era of highly curated personas and unrealistic self-expectation, Kellie Richardson offers readers a stunningly honest account of her struggles with identity, relationships, mental health and self-love. The Art of Naming My Pain collects Richardson’s poetry, essays and…

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In an era of highly curated personas and unrealistic self-expectation, Kellie Richardson offers readers a stunningly honest account of her struggles with identity, relationships, mental health and self-love. The Art of Naming My Pain collects Richardson’s poetry, essays and art as she navigates what it is for a Black, queer, broken women to seek joy in a world that says she doesn’t deserve it. This book is an unfolding of her journey, bearing witness to the possibility of life after self-loathing. Richardson’s voice is refreshingly candid in this sophomore collection, shedding light on issues we all face, though few have the courage to own in the public sphere.


PRAISE FOR The Art of Naming My Pain


“These pages, which offer sinew and pedagogy in the midst of visual art, prose and verse, make The Art of Naming My Pain both a vulnerable and fearless multi-genre collection. Richardson’s art, experience, activism and care pierces from the page into the heart and consciousness of her readers. Her essays drip in the rawness and scholar of Lorde and Hemphill, and the poems and visual work are like contagious candy to readers’ eyes and ears.”

 – avery r. young, author of neckbone: visual verses


 “Richardson’s deeply personal and transgressively honest writing on mental illness will inspire and encourage others to liberate themselves from the stigma that has never belonged there in the first damned place. It is one of the many jewels in this book to be treasured.”

 – Magdalena Gomez, performance poet, playwright and author of Shameless Woman


“This book is a must-read for all educators, activists, poets, writers, children, parents, Tacomans, women, humans, lovers– get it? We all need it … By the end of this collection, we’re able to look back at its enduring reflection and recognize the sacredness of voices we often use to emphasize our own stories. The way these pieces dance between form and memory and image and moment is enough to stoke envy in even the most accomplished poets, or, perhaps, in them especially, since Kellie writes in the language of broken fences we build around ourselves as creators. We stake out our places in whatever artistic scene we want to make some mark on, and we strut within its perimeters, pretending we’re at home but really we’re guarding our shit. We say we value the people around us but really, only up to the fence posts; as long as we’re heard too, we’ll listen. Kellie knocks the fences of establishment down.”

 –Abby E.  Murray, Tacoma Poet Laureate (2019-21) and author of How to Be Married After Iraq


“In The Art of Naming My Pain, Richardson not only names but calls out and takes to task her pain – Black pain, Mother pain, Woman pain, Queer pain – and its sources. Her words and art are charged with a pulse that resonates along a scale holding humor as well as fear, delight as well as anger. In an era that feels more dangerous every day, The Art of Naming My Pain reminds us that we are not alone as we navigate through the darkness.”

– Lydia K. Valentine, poet and playwright, Aliquippa


“With lyric grace and searing vulnerability, Kellie Richardson generously offers us insight into how an artist can make create and name her way through the painful geographies of contemporary America.”

– Tamiko Nimura, writer


The Art of Naming My Pain is testament to the power that we (re)claim when we name all of our selves. This is a work that charges us to face our own hearts while becoming familiar with Richardson’s. With each painting, essay, and poem, we are gifted the affirmation that beauty coexists alongside its many antonyms, and that we can be both bruised and brave.”

 – Thy Nguyễn, poet and community organizer


“The Art of Naming My Pain is a powerful second act to Richardson’s first book of poetry, What Us Is. From the brilliant first essay, which critiques the common and not-so-critically-engaged assumptions about ’safe space’ to her vulnerable and self-empowering exploration of what’s wrong with institutions meant to heal mental health … to the uplift of ‘Love Wins,’ you won’t want to miss the journey and truths Richardson offers us through her words and art. This is a must-read for everyone interested in the power of words, the power of the visual, and the liberatory power and redemption in the call for all of us to continue to refine and reignite our individual and collective commitment to social justice.”

 – Shelli Fowler, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University


“This is a book of stunning bravery and beauty. Richardson reminds me of Frida Kahlo in the way she’s perfected the deep inward gaze. Readers will feel as if they know Richardson as she describes moments of mental illness, racism, and feeling awkward in one’s body. But, she assures us ‘it’s much less lonely in the dark than you think’ and by the end, when she writes ‘we are dancing anyhow,’ that’s exactly how the reader feels.”

 – Renee Simms, author of Meet Behind Mars


“In a collage of poems, observational pieces and deeply personal essays, Richardson has broken down every trope and cliche of the Bildungsroman and replaces it with a narrative that is searing, remarkably original and startlingly beautiful. Telling her story as a queer Black woman and mother, and giving witness to her travails in the mental health system, Richardson has done more than made a way out of no way. She has alchemized her way into enduring literary art.”

 – Robert Lashley, author of The Homeboy Songs



Kellie Richardson is a writer, artist and educator born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. Her work explores the intersection of race, class, and gender with specific emphasis on themes of love, loss and longing. She employs both classical poetic forms as well as contemporary mediums such as spoken word. Her work is provocative yet accessible, powerful yet vulnerable.

Kellie’s debut poetry collection,What Us Is, was published in 2017, shortly after she was named Tacoma Poet Laureate (2017-2019). She’s also the creator of Brown Betty (2012), a blog providing armor and inspiration for real life and a place where commerce and community intersect to cultivate healing. Kellie is particularly inspired and called to explore the experiences of women of color, and the intersectionality of identities.



“Listen” by Kellie Richardson. Acrylic, tissue paper, found items collage on canvas (2019).