#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with J. Mae Barizo

AWP | January 2017

Event Title: An Invitation to Poetic Discovery, Sponsored by Poets House
Description: How do you find inspiration? Poets House invited three contemporary poets to our 70,000-volume library in New York City to discover new poetic voices, traditions, and forms. Poets will share their discoveries and read some of their own poems that will inspire your reading, writing, and life. Kevin Young will introduce and moderate.
Participants: J. Mae Barizo, Rowan Phillips, Monica Youn
Location: Ballroom C, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three
Date & Time: Thursday, February 9 from 4:30 p.m.–5:45 p.m.

Q: What are some of the conference events or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I'm looking forward to these panels:
Writing as Refugees: Collective Trauma and the Impossible Return
The Critique of Violence in Canadian Poetry
Which comes first, Activism or Artist, featuring my friend and press-mate Reginald Dwayne Betts.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay, which commemorates the lives of Eritrean refugees and immigrants; Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole; Operation by Moez Surani; and Float by Anne Carson.

Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: Yes! I'm very grateful for grants and funding I've received. But there's always more need for writers from underrepresented, marginalized communities.

Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs. Now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: I went to Bennington. I received my MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars, a wonderful program. A lot has changed with the proliferation of creative writing programs, but for me, the sense of community that I found in my program was indispensable. The mentors and friends that I found there, including writers like Major Jackson, Leslie Maslow, Timothy Liu, and Askold Melnyczuk, imprinted a lasting influence.

Q: What advice can you offer to writers who must navigate between the solitude of artistic work and our nation’s politics and culture at this moment?
A: I come from an immigrant family. As artists there exists a fine balance between creativity, optimism, and despair. It's important, in fact necessary, to write from within, but also to reflect a first person plural—a voice that can speak to and of the present cultural moment. The political reality we find ourselves in is not a result of multiculturalism; it's a part of the struggle, and even though it may seem hopeless, it can give us as artists the opportunity to make our voices heard. Like Zadie Smith wrote in a recent New York Review of Books piece, we are like "complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting." Even if we don't agree with the conductor, the challenge is to create a greater music. As writers, it's our duty.

Q: If you’ve been to Washington, DC, what places do you recommend our attendees visit?
A: Hirshhorn Museum, Freer and Sackler Gallery, the quirky DC suburb, Takoma Park.

Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP17, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: James Baldwin, who could give us so much wisdom during these difficult political times. And Gertrude Stein. I need her comic relief. We would talk about cats and lovers. And roses.


J. Mae Barizo J. Mae Barizo is a prize-winning poet, critic, and performer. She is the recipient of awards from Bennington College, the Jerome Foundation, and Poets House. A champion of cross-genre work, she has collaborated with artists such as Mark Morris, Salman Rushdie, and the American String Quartet.

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