#AWP19 Featured Presenter Q&A with Mitchell S. Jackson

AWP | February 2019

Event Title: Jesmyn Ward and Mitchell S. Jackson, Sponsored by Literary Arts and Lyceum Agency
Description: Jesmyn Ward is the author of the National Book Award-winning novels Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir Men We Reaped. Ward is in conversation with Mitchell S. Jackson, Whiting Award-winner, native Portlander, and author of the novel The Residue Years and nonfiction book Survival Math (forthcoming 2019).
Participants: Jesmyn Ward, Mitchell S. Jackson
Location: Portland Ballroom 253-254, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2
Date & Time: Friday, March 29, 8:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.


What are some of the conference events or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing at AWP?
I’m looking forward to the NBCC event with Paul Beatty and Joan Silber. I love his work and have been looking forward to reading her work. I’m also looking forward to the reading of Adrian Matejka and Mai Der Veng and I also want to stop by the panel that includes my friends Diana Marie Delgado and John Murillo: “Writing’s Not a Race”: A Poetry Reading and Discussion. I also love strolling around the bookfair, chatting with folks, browsing. I will make it a point to stop by a few tables including the Tin House table and the Copper Canyon table. I love Copper Canyon poets.

If you’ve been to an AWP before, what is your favorite conference memory?
I’ve been to AWP like twelve times. Most every year since I moved to New York in 2002. My favorite memories are of hanging with the writers of color who had books before me—A. Van Jordan, Tayari Jones, Terrance Hayes, Jeffery Renard Allen, Honorée Jeffers—and listening to them talk and trying to learn from them. I hadn’t published a book and really nothing of note, and yet, they still made me feel a part of the community. One AWP Tayari told me, “Mitch, we’re the present. But you’re the future.” And suppose now maybe we are both the present.

What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
I would recommend Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering. I also recommend Greg Pardlo’s Air Traffic. And since I like threes, I’ll add a poetry book: Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.

Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
For sure. I’ve thankfully received a handful of grants in the last few years. They give me the money to live, pay a bill, travel, keep my accounts from running anemic, but they also provide the encouragement to continue scribbling away. And that encouragement is invaluable.

If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP19, who would it be and what would you talk about?
James Baldwin for sure. I’d ask him how racism has changed since 1950. I have a feeling he’d say not much, but it would be a damn eloquent answer.

If you’ve been to Portland before, what places do you recommend that our attendees should visit?
I’m from Portland. Born and raised. I’d suggest visiting Alberta Street and Mississippi Street. Just walk up and down the block and you’ll find something you like.


Michael S. JacksonMitchell S. Jackson grew up in a neglected neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, in the crime-addled 1990s. In The Residue Years, he channels those experiences in a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story. His new book is Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family. This part-essay, part-memoir, part-history hybrid uses stories of Jackson’s family and friends to speak to larger issues in American culture, including the racial history of Oregon, whiteness in America, the prison system, drug addiction, criminality, sex work, violence, and broken families. Jackson’s honors include a Whiting Award, fellowships from TED, the Lannan Foundation, NYFA, the Bread Loaf Conference, and the Center for Fiction.

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