Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
A fireplace is crackling nearby, I have warm tea in my hands, a blanket over my lap and a thick, well-loved book in my hands.
When did you start reading poetry? What books made you fall in love with poetry?
I actually started writing poetry before I started reading it, mostly because at the time poetry wasn’t something that was taught robustly in my classrooms. Around middle school a writing mentor introduced me to the writing of Sonia Sanchez, and gave me a book of her new and selected poems, “Shake Loose My Skin.” I fell in love with it and reread it every day. After that I got my hands on a copy of “Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry,” and I just had this feeling of: Oh, these are my people.
Was there a book of poems or a poet in particular that inspired you to write?
These aren’t poems, but I’d say “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, and “Dandelion Wine,” by Ray Bradbury, really jump-started my interest in writing as a craft. When I came across these works as a young reader, I so deeply wanted to understand how these writers had arrived at these stories.
Which poets continue to inspire you in your work?
That’s like asking me about the air I breathe. Just a handful are Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Federico García Lorca, Rainer Maria Rilke, Octavia E. Butler and Maya Angelou.
Are there poets for whom you’ve gained greater appreciation over time?
Shakespeare, hands down, which might seem a bit elementary since he occupies such a center stage in literature. Yet for the longest time I was ambivalent, if not outright dubious, of Shakespeare, for that very same reason. He just felt like another ancient dead white guy that my teachers were trying to shove into my brain when I was desperate to read someone who looked like me. When I was in college, I had this moment of thinking: If you’re going to close yourself off to an author, at least read them to understand why. I owed that to myself and to literature. So I pushed myself to take a course called Global Shakespeare, taught by Dr. Leah Whittington, and I fell in love. I think it was finally being able to read Shakespeare through a global, racial and gendered lens that made me see him anew.