#AWP18 Featured Presenter Q&A with Tyehimba Jess
AWP | January 2018
Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Cathy Park Hong, Tyehimba Jess, and Morgan Parker, Sponsored by Cave Canem
Description: Three award-winning poets give brief readings of their original work, followed by a moderated conversation on a range of topics from race and poetic forms to the poet's evolving role and responsibility in and to a literary landscape at once predominantly white and rapidly diversifying.
Location: Ballroom A & B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, 3:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I especially look forward to events by Cave Canem, Kundiman, and Canto Mundo.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: I'd recommend t’ai freedom ford's how to get over, Sharon Olds' Odes, Marcus Wicker's Silencer, Layli Long Soldier's WHEREAS, Sam Sax’s Bury It, Phillip B. Williams' Thief in the Interior, Laura Swearingen-Steadwell’s All Blue So Late, Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua's Echolia in Script, Abraham Smith's Destruction of Man, Curtis Crisler's THe GReY aLBuM,Reginald Flood's Refugeed, and Nicole Sealey’s Ordinary Beast.
Q: What are a writer’s main responsibilities in this particular cultural moment?
A: A writer's responsibilities remain the same as they have been in any cultural moment: To remain as true to one’s self as possible—to do one’s best to fully understand the historical moment, to remain skeptical of all political parties while embracing the hope of public action and outcry, to seek full realization of freedom for others as well as one’s self in the construction of art, to work past the flattening clichés of dogma and narrow-mindedness, and to create innovative art that complicates and deepens our collective worldviews.
Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: Public funding for the arts has been fundamental to my understanding of art and my ability to write. From all of the organizations that provided arts programming for free or at an affordable price, enabling me to embark on an auto-didactic education of the many writers they've hosted; from the funding of public education programs which hired me and helped me get through my leanest days as a novice poet; from the grants I've received from the NEA and various other organizations; from public funding that has sponsored many of the readings I've given, such funding has provided a critical investment in the voices of a citizenry that would otherwise lay silent.
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: Well, I really didn't even know what a MFA in creative writing was until I was in my thirties. Today, you have many, many poets in their twenties going straight from undergrad into their MFAs. I think they are experiencing more “professionalization” at a much earlier age. There are also many more poetry books being published, many more poets to read them, and many more journals in which to publish. There are also many more opportunities for folks of all backgrounds to be heard as poets—but our work is still not done in terms of opening the doors of academia—or perhaps blowing the doors away to make room for the voice outside of that space.
Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP18, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: If Ernest Gaines ever comes to AWP, please save me a seat. I'd love to talk to him about how he writes anything.
Q: If you’ve been to Tampa before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
A: Never been to Tampa before. Soooooo..... beach?
Tyehimba Jess is the author of OLIO, which was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, and Leadbelly, a National Poetry Series selection and also named one of the Best Poetry Books of 2005 by Library Journal. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award, a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Whiting Writers’ Award. Jess is a Cave Canem fellow and Associate Professor of English at the College of Staten Island.
(Photo Credit: Keliy Anderson Staley)