Rural Art Hero


Thesley Beverly is the art czar, and maybe the heart and soul, of Pembroke, Illinois, population 2800. Pembroke is ninety percent black and the town was thrust onto the national stage in 2002 after a New York Times article called attention to the poverty (read: vermin and empty cupboards) that’s like a pestilence on the place. Mr. Beverly, writes Jeff Felshman in Swindle, “lives and teaches in a narrow one-room cinderblock house with a low ceiling, heated by a wood-burning stove, the floor made of thin planks painted in squares of black and white.” It’s Mr. Beverly’s command station, actually, and it’s from here that he wages a campaign to energize the arts in his village with local theater, violin lessons for kids, and, among other things, invitations to artists to reside in Pembroke. (More on Swindle Magazine here.)

Jesse Nathan is an editor at McSweeney’s and the managing editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading. His poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, the American Poetry Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Nation. He was born in Berkeley, grew up in Kansas, and lives now in San Francisco. More from this author →