Thursday, June 27, 2019
June 27, 2019: 21st Century Lit: Jericho Brown
[In honor of my about-to-conclude grad class on Analyzing 21st Century America, a series on great recent literary works, with the same Af Am lit through-line that I brought to the class!]
On three ways to connect with the wonderfully talented poet whose first book-length collection, The Tradition, was published this year:
1) Read his poems: Duh, I know. But still, there are so many ways to gain access to contemporary writers (see items 2 and 3 in this post, natch) that it can be easy to miss out on the literary talent and voice that make them such vital contributors to our contemporary culture. In the case of Jericho Brown, I first learned of him through the poem “The Tradition,” which serves as an epigraph of sorts for Jesmyn Ward’s wonderful collection The Fire This Time. That remains one of my favorite 21st century poems, and it seems to be a favorite of Brown’s as well, since he named his whole collection after it. But with each subsequent Brown poem I’ve read, I’ve found something new, distinct styles and forms as well as expansions and extensions of his central thematic threads. If you’re able to click on some or all of those hyperlinks and check out those poems, this post will have done everything I could hope for.
2) His TED talk: Brown delivered a May 2015 talk at the TEDxEmory event, and it’s one of the best TED talks I’ve seen, a multi-genre combination of poetry reading, autobiographical one-man show, literary critical analysis of the genre of poetry, sermon, and more besides. Since I’m asking you to watch a 16-minute video, I’m gonna stop writing this paragraph now so you can get to doing that!
3) Twitter: Welcome back! Like many of his fellow contemporary writers, Brown is also a devoted and compelling Tweeter, using the social media network not only for its standard purposes (sharing his own work, highlighting the work of fellow authors, reaching out and responding to readers and communities) but also (it seems to this Twitter follower anyway) as another space in which to compose. I’m not suggesting he’s gone as far as the novelist Teju Cole, who wrote an entire short story on Twitter (and honestly, who else has gone that far???). But nevertheless, to connect with Brown on Twitter is to gain access to his perspective and voice, his creative process and ideas, his evolving career in ways that would have seemed impossible just a decade or so ago. There’s a lot that’s frustrating about the 21st century, but these multi-layered connections to our greatest writers ain’t one of them!
Last 21C texts tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other recent literary works you’d highlight?