#AWP18 Featured Presenter Q&A with Aimee Nezhukumatathil
AWP | February 2018
Event Title: Poetry, Myth, and the Natural World: A Reading with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rajiv Mohabir, and Sherwin Bitsui. Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts
Description: The layering of cultures; the complex wonder of the natural world; the riddle of faith; the deep resonance of mythology: what better place for these dimensions to wrestle and converse than in the poetic realm? The urgency inside the poems of Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rajiv Mohabir, and Sherwin Bitsui offer a complicated empathy with the world, one that grapples with loss and is tinged with sorrow: even beauty can hurt. Yet their language, resplendent with song, also sings into being a world of joy.
Participants: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rajiv Mohabir, Sherwin Bitsui
Location: Ballroom B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Thursday, March 8, 4:30 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: So many! The tribute to Jake Adam York, the Writing Programs in Greece Faculty Reading, and the panel Beyond 'Add One and Stir': Negotiating Race, Gender and Class as Female Faculty of Color.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing; Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs; Dean Rader's Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry; and Chen Chen's When I Grow Up I Want to be a List of Further Possibilities.
Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: Getting an NEA granted me the chance to travel and continue writing about sea animal conservation efforts at various oceanic research centers—writing that I began before my son was born. I'm deeply grateful to the NEA for helping me record the delights of the natural world for my poems and for my young sons, the results of which ended up as Oceanic, my 4th collection of poems to come out in spring 2018 from Copper Canyon (just in time for #AWP18), and a forthcoming collection of nature essays with Milkweed.
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: Absolutely I feel like community is fostered and mentorship more widely available through creative writing programs. Programs connected to literary magazines have found ways (many via the internet and social media) to make the publishing world more accessible to people all over the world. I came of age in my writing program when the Internet was in the early stages and it was very helpful in helping me find a community of Asian American writers and “indie” journals not readily available to me in the Midwest. But I’m so glad and grateful for the increase in the number of writing programs now—especially fully funded ones like the one I went to—it was absolutely crucial for me to have that debt-free apprenticeship in terms of learning how to read as a writer and to have a studio space in which to freely experiment and study craft.
Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP18, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: I'd love to talk to Neruda about our current government or debate the best summertime cocktail.
Q: If you’ve been to Tampa before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
A: My family lives in central FL so I'd recommend the Aquarium right near the convention center for their jellyfish exhibit alone, but to also see lemurs and pink spoonbills as a nice respite from the joyful madness of the bookfair. And if you can catch the Flamenco show at Columbia restaurant, you'll feel like dancing for days.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the poetry editor of Orion magazine and the author of four books of poetry: Lucky Fish, winner of the Hoffer Grand Prize for Prose and Independent Books; Oceanic; At the Drive-In Volcano; and Miracle Fruit. With Ross Gay, she coauthored Lace & Pyrite, a chapbook of nature poems, and World of Wonder, her collection of lyric nature essays, is forthcoming. Some of the awards she has received include an NEA fellowship in poetry and a Pushcart Prize. She is Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi.
(Photo Credit: Martin Bentsen)