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The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing

Erika Meitner, Khary Jackson, Tarfia Faizullah, Karin C. Davidson & a host of others have tagged me for The Next Big Thing in recent weeks, so here goes:

  • What is the working title of the book? Sacrilegion was recently published, andMissionary/Burden Hill is in its early stages.

  • Where did the idea come from for the book? A life of church hurt and ecstasy.

  • What genre does your book fall under? Sacrilegion is the 2012 winner of the Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series. Missionary/Burden Hill is a multimedia project centered on proems (poetic prose).

  • What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? Michael Rainey Jr. would be the younger speaker of Sacrilegion's poems; Tyler James Williams would be its young adult speaker. Missionary has too many characters to name actors, although I'd love to have S. Epatha Merkerson, Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad and Cicely Tyson play the four elderly women who anchor one of the poems I'm deeply entrenched in crafting; it's a polyphonic text in a different way than Sacrilegion's collective, if fragmented, voice(s).

  • What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? Sacrilegion: Every body is a mirror, and a mirror is a terrible thing to waste. Missionary: There is no such thing as free salvation if a Christian, particularly a white male-identified one, is offering it.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? About four years forSacrilegion. I began a draft of the title poem of this second collection last summer, which set the project into motion.

  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Neither. No agent at this point, and it's not my intent to self-publish.

  • What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Sacrilegion began in earnest when I read Yusef Komunyakaa's Magic City, Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill, Melvin Dixon's Love's Instruments, and Mary Oliver's Thirst during my second year at Virginia Tech, where I completed my MFA. That year, I also met Jericho Brown, whose very way of being in the world inspires me to own my faith while interrogating any vestiges of slavish following of its purported strictures, and Remica L. Bingham, whose attention to the line astounds me.Please and Conversion, their respective first books, are pretty amazing, too. It's too early to make comparisons yet for Missionary, but I will say I keep Langston Hughes' Montage of a Dream Deferred, Zong! by M. Nourbese Philip and Douglas Kearney's The Black Automatonnearby these days.

  • Who or what inspired you to write this book? Between 2006 and 2010, I lost five friends to AIDS complications, and another I love is fighting a fierce battle today. I know countless others who live with the specter of HIV in their day-to-day loving; thus, its presence hauntsSacrilegion. I'm also a history buff, so as I learn of forgotten people, particularly infamous black women, in our American stories, I'm often moved to empathize with their choices, to whatever extent they seem to express a sense of agency. The middle section of the book is theirs largely. Ai, the preeminent poet of personae, keeps me daring myself to be unafraid of what stuns as it leaves my mind & reaches the page & to resist self-editing in early drafts.

  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? That it has a pullout poem conflating the biblical Legion with HIV? That it's on sale now at That the second book has a poem that re-imagines sex with an Andre 3000 doppelgänger?

  • Here are some of the poems from Sacrilegion:

    • "Oblation" and "It Could Happen to Anyone, or a Letter to the Boy" at No Tell Motel:;

    • "Resurrection Sunday" at Vinyl:

    • "We Do Not Know Her Name" at the Poetry Society of America site, originally published inCrab Orchard Review:

    • "Dear Uncle Sam":

    • No poems from Missionary are online yet, but stay tuned at for updates!


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