Jericho Brown was born in 1976 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He graduated from Dillard University in 1995 and later got his MFA at University of New Orleans and his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston. During his time at the University of New Orleans, he was a speechwriter for the mayor. He has written two books Please (2008) and The New Testament (2014). Both his books are highly acclaimed and have received many awards including, the American Book award for Peace and the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book award for his examination of race and sexuality in The New Testament. He also was the recipient of Whiting Writers Award and fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, he is the Director of the Creative Writing Program and an associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University. In his free time, he works on his upcoming book, which will be out next April.
At first, I only chose Jericho Brown based on his poem “Host”, because I liked its complexity and relevancy; each time I read it I got a new meaning from the poem. I enjoyed that I had to work to find what Brown was trying to say. Certain lines struck out to me like, “Our exes hurt us into hurting them” and “No place, no face”, because they were only a couple words but had powerful meaning. As I started to do further research on him, I knew I wanted to interview him. His complex and difficult childhood helped create deep and meaningful poems. Although we didn’t have the same upbringing, I still feel like I can connect to his poems, which are based on conformity and adversity. His style is the perfect combination of literal and metaphorical writing. Another poem that I really enjoyed while researching was “Lion”, which I think he wrote about his anger towards his father. I think he purposefully wrote in a childish style to mimic a poem he would have written the day he left his father. Brown adds his own personal stories and unique ideas to each of his poems, which made me excited to interview him.
Hannah Riegel: “Where do you feel most comfortable writing poetry and why?”
Jericho Brown: “I guess at home in my living room or library. I don’t know if I have a location. It’s easier at home, but I will write anywhere. I write on planes a lot. I used to really write on planes. When I was living in California, I would write on planes, because they were so long going to the east coast. I liked the fact that I was locked away for five or six hours.”
HR: “Do you find it easier to write about your personal experiences or more prevalent topics in the news?”
JB: “I don’t think there is a difference between my personal experience and so called ‘prevalent topics’. I feel like the more you are outside of whatever people think of as main stream or the more that you are outside the margins, the more you are aware. There is no real difference between what is in the news and what is personal because it affects who you are. There is no part of the news not affecting our personal life.”
HR: “What is your favorite poem you have written and why?”
JB: “I don’t have a favorite poem. They are all like my kids. I like the poems I am currently writing for my book that is coming out April of next year.”
HR: “What is the longest amount of time it has taken you to write a poem and which poem was it? And why?”
JB: “I think around ten years. One of the poems that came out of my first book Please, I wrote in the late 90s, and I was still working with the poem all the way up to 2008. The poem is only about half a page. When you are working on a poem, you are working on small things that make a big statement. It takes times to get the menusua right. That’s not the case every time. Sometimes the poem will take a week just because it’s right.”
HR: “After reading your poem “Host”, I noticed you didn’t use a lot of punctuation and didn’t break it up into stanzas. However, “Lion” has more punctuation and each stanza is two sentences. How does the layout change the meaning of these two poems? Do you think punctuation and stanzas are a big part of your poetry?”
JB: “The form helps to inform the content of the poem. When I am writing a poem and revising a poem, its form helps tells me what the poem is about and its different for every poem. Every poem requires a form that is giving the reader a hint as to how to read the poem. It can slow down the pace or speed it up. It shows what is being emphasized.”