Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Jericho Brown’s poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry anthologies, Buzzfeed, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology. His first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets. Jericho Brown is Director of the Creative Writing Program and associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. Please enjoy my interview with Jericho Brown.
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I think this is hardly ever an appropriate question, so I say, “I’m a poet” because it usually gets nosy people out of my face.
I’m reading Sons of Achilles by Nabila Lovelace, and that’s what everyone else should be reading too.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I remember getting to 100 pages in a textbook in the first grade. It was something the whole class had to read together on a daily basis. Obviously, I read something before then, but I don’t remember any of that. I remember sitting in that feeling of accomplishment with about 30 other six-year-olds. My whole life has been about trying to get to that feeling again. I want to be a part of a community of readers who look to reading as a hopeful sign of growth, of maturity.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?
There’s a little chapbook of poems called Conditions by Essex Hemphill that changed my life and made me aware of worlds and thinking minds outside of my own. If it worked for me, it should work for anyone. It’s political and lascivious.
Can you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
I wrote a lot of rhymes that my mother would magnet to the refrigerator…sometimes just lists of words that rhyme. She must have known she was in trouble.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I haven’t had any “bad” jobs. I’ve done hard work, mostly landscaping flower beds and lawns in the Louisiana sun. But I can’t call that bad because you have something to see and know you’ve done well once you finish. Some of my grad school professors were much more a trial than allergy season.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring poet?
Never say no. But use condoms.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Of course not. This is fun, and I appreciate you asking, but shouldn’t I be reading now?
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path and why?
I think it’s a good idea to try and get through as many (kinds of) poetry anthologies as you can. It gives you the breadth you need to have some idea of what others in the literary community are reading and it introduces just enough of a poet for you to know whether or not you want to read more of his or her work.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
I used to read The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker every Christmas because it helped me understand the inherited violence in my family. I’d need that understanding while visiting home for the holidays. I also read Among the Monarchs by Christine Garren whenever I get the chance because it reminds me that so much can indeed be said with very few words. I’ve read The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins a few times because it’s inspiring.
If someone whose never got into poetry asks you for a tip on a good poetry book to start with, what would you recommend?
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Who would you say are the three poets that continue to inspire you?
Langston Hughes, Russell Atkins, Audre Lorde.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Why would I imagine this when the world with books is looking quite the hot mess right now?
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Well, there will always be real books in museums!
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Well, the Bible seems to have done that in some of the best and worse ways for all Americans, even those of us who aren’t Christians.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Well, there’s all of the work by Miyung Mi Kim.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m going to read all of Jesmyn Ward in the next few weeks and all of Samuel Beckett’s plays just after that.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
From Resilience to Gratitude: The Jericho Brown Story.