The Persimmon Creek Writers and Artists Residency is an initiative designed to bring emerging and established African American writers, artists, and musicians to live and work in the historic Village of Arrow Rock. Each summer the residency program is comprised of two sessions, each of which features a unique resident. This year’s second resident David “Todd” Lawrence is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the Department of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He teaches African American literature and expressive culture, folklore studies, and cultural studies. His writing has appeared in several journals, including Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Folklore Re- search, Open Rivers, and The New Territory. His book, When They Blew the Levee: Race, Politics and Community in Pinhook, Missouri (2018), co-authored with Elaine Lawless, is an ethnographic project done in collaboration with residents of Pinhook, Missouri, an African American town destroyed during the Mississippi River Flood of 2011. This book won the Chicago Folklore Prize in 2019 for the best book published in folklore studies.

Todd also co-directs the Urban Art Mapping Project, along with colleagues Heather Shirey and Paul Lorah. They started the project together in 2018. The Urban Art Mapping team created and oversees the George Floyd & Anti-Racist Street Art Data- base, a crowd-sourced, community archive of images of street art created as part of the movement for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The group was recently awarded an NEA grant to support the study of Black Lives Matter street murals created in towns and cities across the country during the summer of 2020. The team will focus on studying murals in eight cities, including Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

Todd has strong roots in Missouri, where he attended high school, college, and graduate school. Both his parents were born in the state, and his father’s family is from a small historical Black town in Central Missouri called Pennytown. Located just six miles south of Marshall, Missouri (and about fifteen minutes from Arrow Rock), and founded in 1871, Penny- town was once a thriving town of Black farmers and laborers. Most of its residents left by the late 1940s, seeking better work in larger towns like Marshall and Kansas City. Only the Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church remains on the spot where Pennytown was once located. Recently, Todd has turned his thinking and writing toward the history and the present of his ancestral home of Pennytown, its decedents, and issues of land ownership and reclamation in Black life.

INFO? Contact the Residency at [email protected] or visit

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