Interview: Ashley M. Jones

Posted on December 14, 2017 by

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The story is that Birmingham, Alabama, was growing so quickly that it earned the nickname “The Magic City.” I first heard the epithet while living in Mobile and listening to Sun Ra’s 1966 recording of the same name. John Szwed has written that the name of the record was a way for Sun Ra to deny his “earthly birthplace” and to reimagine “the city without its grim, racist, smoke-choked past.” I happened to find Ashley M. Jones’s book, Magic City Gospel, while perusing the shelves of the bookstore down the street from where I live now, in Birmingham. I picked it up to see if it was actually about this city–surely other places claim the moniker–and was surprised to see that Jones was a local. She, however, isn’t imagining the city without its past, in fact, her work directly addresses how the past carves out the present. I was thrilled to talk to her about Magic City Gospel. ashley jones headshotI keep coming back to the opening poem of the book, “Sam Cooke Sings to Me when I Am Afraid.” For one, it sets up many of the topics throughout the book: family, music, the South, race, growing up, place, and the cognitive dissonance that comes with, for me, being American.

I like your use of cultural references and allusions. They don’t feel false or ironic. They don’t feel like they could just be replaced by another celebrity name to emphasize status, privilege, celebrity culture, etc. They’re meaningful. The various images of Sammy Davis, Jr. are particularly powerful.

One of the images I really connect to is the one of being a child and riding in the backseat at night. I think of it as this mix of contentment and fear as one becomes more aware of aspects of life like death and danger. You capture that fear, and more, here.

The points of ambiguity that I keep coming back to in the poem are the grandmother and her despondence, possibly due to her past in Alabama. The other one is Sam Cooke’s voice that is described at one point as “crooning” and as the speaker’s fear grows is described as “screaming.” I’ve known musicians who consider him the greatest of American popular singers and he’s often described more as a crooner, so this description is counter to what one usually thinks off when they think of Sam Cooke.

I read the poem as a variation on a “trip to grandmother’s house,” which can be innocent and fun or ominous depending on the tale. Like the pain the speaker hears in Cooke’s voice is the closest she can get to articulating or understanding the past that may have led to her grandmother’s despondency. Even the Lion King, referenced here, gives a phrase to the struggles of life and death that children may understand at some level, but can’t clearly describe or express.

Does any of that register with you? Can you talk about this poem or its relationship to any of these topics or ideas?

Certainly—all of this registers with me, and I’ll try to answer point-by-point. This poem is connected to one of the clearest memories/feelings I have from my childhood.

When I think about the scene of this piece, I’m immediately transported back to that carseat and dark ride back home from my paternal grandmother’s house. I can’t remember which Sam Cooke song it is that’s playing, and in some ways, the real song matters much less than the feeling I feel when I think about those nights and the way Sam Cooke always made me feel. Back then, I didn’t know he’d been mysteriously (maybe it’s not-so-mysteriously) murdered in the prime of his life, but something about his voice suggested tragedy in a way I couldn’t comprehend back then. That same sense of unnamable tragedy existed in my grandmother—the way she smiled, the way each visit seemed eerily like the last, or at least that she knew her time would be over soon. When you’re a child, old people seem like this impossibility—both because you can’t imagine being any older than what you are and because oldness seems like an impossible way to live. That, and her particularly sad backstory, which I won’t go into too much here. To say the least she and her children (my dad included) saw what a monster really is—her husband was abusive (to put it lightly), and that sadness probably stayed with her for her whole life. Maybe that’s the sadness I saw in her when I was a child.

This poem is first in the collection because it’s one of my earliest memories, and as you deduced, it does include a lot of the themes of the book. It also sets up the character Ashley in this book. Yes, she is me and I am her, but it’s still a piece of writing, so she’s not really me—she’s the me I can construct on the page. At any rate, any three-year-old who’s thinking about death and Sam Cooke and sad grandmothers and danger is one who will grow up to be even more curious and conflicted. I have always been deeply thoughtful, and that only intensified as I got older.

And yes, the cognitive dissonance is there—I think it’s impossible, if you’re a thinking (read: thinking critically, seeing what’s really going on in this country/world) citizen, you feel that. As a Black person in America, I’m definitely always split—the double consciousness DuBois talks about. I’m American, but I’m also Black—born into a history of my people being brutalized and dehumanized and told, over and over, how un-American, in-human, unworthy of life we are. It’s hard to reconcile the two. This poem isn’t doing so much of that, but it does set up a tone that’s working in contradictions. Young Ashley is young but also thinking about grown-up things (death). Sam Cooke is crooning and screaming simultaneously. We are safe but unsafe in our little car riding through Birmingham. Those contradictions define my existence as an American and as a human being in this very dangerous society.

Thanks for what you said about the cultural references—I just write about people I really love or who really fascinate me. These people become personal to me, and I’m glad to hear they seem authentic in the text.

This poem is very emotionally charged for me, and I rarely read it out loud because I feel like it doesn’t translate as well without having the text in front of you. But, it’s also one of my favorites because I think it so accurately captures this moment for me, and from the sounds of it, it’s impacting readers, too.

“(I’m Blue) The Gong Gong Song, or, America the Beautiful” is also a sophisticated use of popular culture. Ike Turner stands in for Columbus and is depicted as man, conqueror, even god. The poem cuts at notions of “discovery,” power, and ownership. The Americas are still dealing with the complications of this and America, in particular, is at its foundation a work of cognitive dissonance and colonialism at worst, and a “democratic” work-in-progress at best.

“Mock-Election” is similar, but it also gets into the appearances of power, and its seductiveness. I love the voice and perspective in that poem, by the way, it captures a complex young voice.

I’d be interested in anything you want to say about these poems, especially “(I’m Blue) The Gong Gong Song, or, America the Beautiful” and if there were any specific influences on it. It’s very commanding and powerful like its subject, yet critical of the cruelty and violence that are often coupled with power. Sorry, that’s not really a question.

Ha! That’s okay, I’ll still answer it!

This poem began as an assignment in Julie Marie Wade’s lyric essay seminar at FIU. We had read a few pieces, including Paul Metcalf’s “…and nobody objected” and Sherman Alexie’s “Captivity.” Metcalf’s piece is a reconstruction of Columbus’ journals, which tell the story of his “discovery” of the New World. Alexie’s piece is a retelling of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity journals. As a response to these pieces, I wanted to explore what it means to conquer, what it means to “tame,” and what better example than Ike Turner? Maybe I didn’t know exactly where this poem was going when I began it—all I had at first was that first line, “Ike Turner sailed the ocean blue in nineteen hundred sixty two,” but I did know that after reading about Christopher Columbus, I was absolutely reminded of the way Ike created something new and special (Tina Turner) just like Columbus claimed to have done with America. And Turner is just as famous—infamous—as Columbus when it comes to their discoveries and the abuse they inflicted on said discoveries.

You mention Langston Hughes in the book and I see echoes of his work in pieces like “Happiness.” With that, I have two questions. One is what influence has Hughes been for you and has it changed over time? The other is who do you consider as foundational to your life as a writer?  I’m asking that partially because he was one of the first poets I loved and my relationship to his work has altered several times. I think for a time I felt Hughes was too simple, unlike other Moderns I found in college. But going back I feel like I was too young in some ways to grapple beyond the surface simplicity of Hughes and get into the complexity of his social commentary and pathos. Also, like blues choruses or a jazz musician chasing a melody, he can unleash metaphor after metaphor after metaphor, which I experienced initially as simply repetition. I now see theme and variation.

As far as my relationship to Hughes—I learned about him in school, like many of us did. He is, sadly, oversimplified in the educational setting—he’s rolled out for Black History Month as the (only) Great Negro Poet, which does a great disservice to his impact and legacy on Black poetry and poetry at large. Now, I don’t mean that he’s not a Great Black Poet—he certainly is, but he’s much more dynamic than an average Black History Month curriculum will let him be. I must confess that I’m not nearly as well versed in Hughes’ work as I’d like to be—in my view, life is a big opportunity to learn and keep learning, and hopefully I can dive more deeply into his poetry as the years pass. I will say, however, that the world doesn’t talk enough about his fiction—I’m currently reading The Ways of White Folks and WOW—that’s a transformational book.

Lucille Clifton is my poetrymother. Sadly, I never got to meet her or see her read in person, but her work has been ministering to me/instructing me/inspiring me for my entire adult life, and maybe even before that. I haven’t read every single poem she’s ever written quite on purpose—not because I don’t want to be knowledgeable about her work, but because there’s something exciting in discovering new poems and in re-discovering my old favorites. Clifton is the only poet I’ve ever encountered who is able to trap complex emotions—a whole world–in such spare and precise language. Sure, there are other poets who use spare language, but Clifton, to me, at least, is unique and exceptional in her ability. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach her skill level, but it’s my pleasure and my honor to write in her shadow.

Other poets who have taught me along my journey are Eloise Greenfield, whose poem “Harriet Tubman” and whose book, Honey, I Love, was my first encounter with poetry that revealed the magic of the form. Rita Dove was my go-to throughout my entire high school career, and Kevin Young, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Audre Lorde have taught me and continue to teach me through their work. I’m also lucky enough to belong to an ever-expanding community of young poets whose work is the absolute bread of my poetry life—you can’t read Nabila Lovelace without proclaiming the goddess that lives on her page. You can’t read José Olivarez without something buckling in your poetry-loving brain. And, the world is constantly in awe of Danez Smith. Period.

As I was reading, I felt like a few of the topics intertwine in ways that I feel like I’m just starting to tease out. For example, food and language. I love how you use food in these poems. Food means tradition and family, but it also means power and conquest. Food becomes a text to be read.

Along with this, you have poems in the form of reference texts–recipes and dictionary entries–which for me bring these topics together, or they at least begin to mirror each other in structural ways. Language as food or food as language and how these are representational. Something ingested that alters us. Something we spit out. In a way, this is exploring the dimensions of how the personal is political, or at least, can be politicized. I feel like you offer a complex view in that we have to be conscious of both, not one or the other.

One of the poems that anchors this for me, isn’t overtly about food or language, but relates to the markers of insider/outsider status represented in those poems. I love the blending of traditional form and tradition in “Eating Red Dirt Greensboro, Alabama.” The eating of red dirt that changes the status of the speaker (“I felt like a local”) also reminds me of stories I’ve read of authors looking through archives, and in one example, when a piece of a James Joyce manuscript flaked off a page, the researching author looked around and then ate it as if intaking a magical potion, as a ritual to become closer to the source, so to speak.

Were any of these associations I’ve made conscious when you were writing these poems? How are you thinking about these topics these days?

So, yes, you’re right to pick up on the personal as political. I think I’ve always known, vaguely, that my personal is inherently political, as mine is a politicized body as both Black and female, but I don’t think I had the vocabulary to talk about it until I studied Audre Lorde. She highlights the ways in which we cannot separate ourselves from the political, from the poetry inside us. Because of this, all my poems deal with this duality.

“Eating Red Dirt in Greensboro, Alabama” is a special poem, and it’s one I’ve never really thought of as political…but I suppose it is, when you think about it. It’s special because of the memory it celebrates—my aunt Hattie was always a mysterious person to me. My parents said she was blind, but I knew she could still see because she watched soaps on television. She was magical because of that blindness (near-blindness, I now know as an adult), and because of the robotic sounds of the police scanner which she always had on, and which remained on for a few years even after her death. I was never close to her, but the memory of her telling us about red dirt is one that I cherish—it was, I think, the only time I ever spoke to her directly (I was a shy kid, and her blindness, as I said, was extremely mysterious and mystifying to me), and it is one of the first times I felt a sort of connection with my mom’s hometown, a place I consider to be particularly “southern.”

As far as the political, yes, a poem about a very misunderstood practice (eating dirt) in the Deep South is sure to be political, as it situates the characters in a particular place and economic bracket. But it also, I think, highlights the ways in which our ancestral traditions still exist, despite America’s conquering hand. In this and other poems in the collection (I’m thinking, specifically, about “Sonnet for Sopping”), we see these traditions that were potentially carried from Africa (eating dirt for its nutritional benefits, especially for women and eating with hands instead of cutlery) being practiced in the modern South. That shows me that even though our culture was brutally stripped from us during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we were able to hold on to something that harkens back to our ancestral home.

I still haven’t read enough of Amiri Baraka’s poems on the page, but I used to repeatedly listen to any recordings I could find of him. He was powerful and abrasive, yet musical. Probably even more important to me were his works on music, especially Blues People and Black Music. He gave me new ways to hear and to think about music.  

I like how you describe his work as “bitter” like medicine, which would be a necessary bitterness. Can you speak more about this relationship to his work? What particular poems, if any, were important to you and why?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t think Amiri Baraka was the best human in the world, personally speaking, but I certainly think it’s wrong not to hold him as one of the great poets and thinkers of our time. He was, for all of his faults, a pioneering and brilliant artist. I’m also not extremely well read when it comes to Baraka, but what I have read has truly impacted me and the way I view my place as a Black poet. I first read Baraka’s play Dutchman in high school, and it struck me so deeply that I include it in my curriculum when I teach Black Studies at the high school at which I work. When I first read it, I felt like some sort of wall had been torn down inside me—I was enraged and excited, and I felt a fire to scream, though my work, at the whiteness which killed Clay and which empowered Lula to cruise the trains for unsuspecting Black victims. I felt empowered to write my Black truth and pain and joy and anger. I recently taught Baraka’s poem “Dope,” and that poem does two things for me—first, it reminds me how delicious language can be. Instead of a static thing on the page, language can create whole sonic worlds—a poetry reading can be a jumping, jiving thing. Second, that poems gives me the same sense of empowerment Dutchman does. It’s looking underneath the world’s shiny white veneer to get to the underbelly, the hot bubbling truth that festers right under our noses. This is how his work is necessary—it breaks things open. But, as I’ve said, I’m a little less into Baraka the man. He was a polarizing figure, and I’m polarized within myself when I think about him, but that polarizing quality doesn’t diminish, in my mind, the importance of his work and his politics in our nation.

I’m wondering if any of the poems were intentionally placed in pairs? I found many resonated in interesting ways across from each other in the physical book. The De Soto poems seem obvious. But “Nem” and “Addie, Carole, Cynthia, Denise” are a striking pair. “Teaching J to Read” and “Sammy Davis Jr. Speaks to Mike Brown Jr.”  “God Speaks to Alabama” and “Salat Behind Al’s Mediterranean and American Food.” “Birmingham Fire and Rescue” and “Robert Chambliss Lays the Bombs.” “The First Time I Heard About Slavery” and “Viewing a KKK Uniform at the Civil Rights Institute.”

With these poems, I often find that the resonance is through connections between the speaker and history. Maybe that’s just an important connection that your work deals with, but I felt there was more happening with these pairs. For example, the father in “Birmingham Fire and Rescue” is in so many ways a contrast to the Chambliss of the other poem who is represented as a father-figure, handling bombs like babies. There is water, in some ways, defeating fire, while it’s hard not to also think of the terrifying use of water on protesters.

Though I am ready to admit some of these connections may be accidental.

Yes! The pairings are, in some cases, intentional—first I want to give ultimate props to my mentor, Denise Duhamel, who toiled over the order with me during the thesis process. Now, on to the pairings you mentioned. Generally speaking, the order of a collection (in my opinion) often suggests a narrative, or at least suggests an associative narrative. I’ll go pair by pair to talk more about what I mean:

“Nem” and “Addie, Carole, Cynthia, Denise”—I think there’s definitely a connection between these two poems because they both deal with children who are alienated or singled out. In “Nem,” I revisit my adolescence and the ways in which I discovered what my Blackness could do with language in both White and Black spaces. “Addie, Carole, Cynthia, Denise” explores childhood, too—these four girls (and the two young men who were also killed on that day) were killed before they could reach adulthood. They were no different than I was as a young woman. In many ways, my exploration of this particular event brings me to the terrifying realization that it could have been me, it could still be me, it could be any of us who are caught in the crossfire of a racially motivated attack.

“Teaching J to Read” and “Sammy Davis Jr. Speaks to Mike Brown Jr.”—This is a pairing I don’t think I planned. Sometimes poems just get stuck together in a book without a reason, and this pair might be just that. But I will say that these two poems do seem to speak to each other. J is a an example of what happens when we leave children behind (and this is not an endorsement of GW Bush’s infamous No Child Left Behind Act), especially children from the minority community. This boy was at a “good” school. He had a fantastic fifth grade teacher. But without the foundation of literacy, and with his clear feeling of shame and a need to protect himself from ridicule, he not only slipped through the cracks in an educational sense, but teachers spoke about him with a certain disdain or annoyance that I think made him see himself as a menace. He made trouble to hide from his illiteracy, but he might have started to believe that that’s what he was good at—making trouble. In a similar way, a narrative was created around Mike Brown when he was murdered in an effort to justify his murder. Media attempted to paint him as a villain, as larger than life, as almost impossible to kill—the big Black buck with fire in his blood and danger on his mind. He was trouble, or, he had to be seen as such so we wouldn’t see his killing as a terrifying example of what racism and policing can do. He couldn’t be human, couldn’t be just another child who needed to be listened to instead of passed over.

“God Speaks to Alabama” and “Salat Behind Al’s Mediterranean and American Food”—this connection is a small one, perhaps. Both speak about God and the ways in which you can find God in any place. At least, that’s my belief. “God Speaks to Alabama” was written to be read aloud, and for that reason, I wanted it to capture all the feelings and sounds of my Alabama. Funnily enough, I’ve never read this poem at a reading this year on tour…may have to start reading it aloud in 2018, because it doesn’t sound half bad…ha! At any rate, God is showing Alabama all the ways—maybe all of the pedestrian ways He exists all over the landscape. Similarly, in “Salat,” we see God being summoned in an alleyway—the man who prays is kneeling on a piece of cardboard box, and yet, God is still there. These poems really highlight my personal belief that the divine (whatever you may call it or not call it) exists everywhere and in everything, and it can reach people wherever they are.

“Birmingham Fire and Rescue” and “Robert Chambliss Lays the Bombs”—These two poems highlight childhood, again. “Birmingham Fire and Rescue” tells a story of my own childhood—my dad is now Assistant Chief of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service, but he used to just be a regular old fireman, and as the poem describes, we would go to his station and play in the water as he sprayed our family van. Here, water and fire hoses and even the work a fireman does are all playthings, all safe and fun and full of smiles. We didn’t realize then how dangerous our dad’s job really was. We didn’t realize how dangerous water could be. How dangerous humans could be. In “Robert Chambliss Lays the Bombs,” the bombs he plants in the 16th Street Baptist Church are characterized as children because, they, too, are harmless until they’re set to burst. These bombs were special, cared for and placed like children. The children they killed weren’t thinking about the ways in which humans can sour and take to premeditated violence. They were just playing, freshening up, laughing, talking in the church bathroom. Just like we were all smiles at the fire station, they were lighthearted, I’m sure, before the blast.

“The First Time I Heard About Slavery” and “Viewing a KKK Uniform at the Civil Rights Institute”—ah, a dynamic duo, indeed! These poems show a progression in my own view of Black History and the power I feel I have or don’t have as a Black person in the USA. It’s true that when I first saw Roots, as I say in the poem, I felt an overwhelming fear of what could happen to me in America for just being Black. Of course, we’ve seen those fears played out in many ways in our lifetime, but my fear back then was that I’d be stolen away from home and sold into slavery. This fear caused me to shy away from any parts of Black history—my family thought I hated myself for being Black, but really I was just afraid of what I’d seen. I didn’t know that I had any agency or control over what happened to my Black body in America (yes, the argument can be easily made that my body is still easily disposed of given the right police officer/concerned citizen/vigilante/etc). In “Viewing a KKK Uniform,” I’m writing from a place of power. When I wrote this piece, I had just come back from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with a summer camp at which I work. We go almost every year, and I’d been going to the Institute since my childhood, so I was very familiar with all the exhibits. One in particular is a room in which these angry white people (photographs on big glass panels) yell slurs and other hateful commentary as you walk toward a KKK uniform in a glass case. In the past, I always sped past that uniform because it filled me with fear, much like the images of Black people being stolen and beaten and abused in Roots. But that day, I decided I didn’t want that piece of fabric or the group it represented to have any hold on me. So I walked right up to it and looked it in the eyes—well, the eye holes, and this poem was born after that.

Alabama has been in the news quite a bit lately. It’s generally not positive or escapable. Not to be dismissive of it, but I think it’s obvious that we can do better. Since you offer both critique and praise in your poems about the South, what are you hopeful for? What are some of the positives you see in our state, in Birmingham, in our communities, in our art?

Well, I’ll start by saying that people make the mistake of thinking Alabama is somehow not representative of the state of our nation as a whole. A friend posted about this on Facebook today (today is our senate election…hopeful that it turns out positively…), and I want to credit them as I paraphrase their post. The poet JD Scott wrote that Alabama and the American South isn’t representative of the “worst” or “most backwards” parts of our nation. It is, instead, a metonym for our country. We aren’t somehow the most racist, the most backwards, the most unwilling to break out of this American Dream. The whole nation needs to a) realize Alabama/the whole South is, in fact, a part of the country, and if it’s a problem it’s not just our problem, it’s our nation’s problem and b) that we, as a nation have neglected these real and important conversations about race, gender, and human rights for far too long.

Now, to answer the real question—there’s a lot to be hopeful for! There are some really great poets coming out of the South right now. To name a few: the poet Nabila Lovelace has a forthcoming book of genius poetry from YesYes Books (she’s from Queens, but she lives here in Alabama), Kaveh Akbar is in Florida, and he’s tearing up the scene. My friend and colleague Kwoya Fagin Maples (originally from Charleston, SC, but she lives in Birmingham now) has a fantastic book, MEND, forthcoming in 2018. The South also seems to be experiencing a sort of artistic renaissance—cities like Birmingham are expanding their artistic spaces with new galleries, reading series, and programming popping up. The South still holds the title, in my opinion, for birthing the best rappers our world has seen—currently obsessed with BIG K.R.I.T.’s new album, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time.

Birmingham is really blossoming in a way I’ve always dreamed it would—we just elected a progressive young mayor—Randall Woodfin. I’m really excited for what he’ll do for the city, and I’m excited for what we’ll all do under his leadership. The South is not a bad place to be, and I’m glad that I was able to come back to pour back into this community that raised me.

Even though this may sound simplistic, how do you balance teaching and writing? If there is even a way to “balance” these things…

Balancing teaching, writing, touring, working in the community, activism, and just being an okay friend, sibling and daughter has been quite a struggle this year, since the book came out. But, I’ve found ways to make it all work. For one, I’m not a writer who likes to write every single day at a certain time. I don’t write every single day, period. I write when I have the time and when I’m ready to write. I don’t want to paint a picture that it’s always a magical pull to the page—sometimes I’m just buzzing along, living my regular life, and something happens. I see something, I read something, someone says something to me, and it starts bubbling up into a poem in my head. Sometimes I get ideas while I’m driving, and I have to dictate to Siri so I don’t lose it. Sometimes I’m able to write during free periods at school. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and write, but it’s all based on my availability, physically and mentally and emotionally. Teaching is an extension of the writing process, I think. Teaching requires me to read (and find new authors to teach), to interact with other writers (my students, my colleagues) and talk about writing, and it shows me new ways to think about words on the page. I don’t know what I know until I’ve had to teach it, and sometimes those aha! moments lead to poems. The rest of my busy life? I think maybe I’ve cloned myself and I just don’t know it…but, I would say, that doing a lot of living really does feed my writing. I need experiences to fill up my poetry tank, and I think it will all keep working if I keep all the plates moving.

What’s inspiring you these days?

Right now, I’m trying to let Gwendolyn Brooks’ spirit speak to me and to my writing. I’m endeavoring to imitate some of her work in traditional meter and form, and I’m writing a lot about Harriet Tubman, too. I’m inspired by Black women and their lives—I’m a Black woman, so it stands to reason that I’d want to write about us. I’m also inspired by music—I listen to a lot of it, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I think there might be some poems about Celia Cruz, Stevie Wonder, The Commodores, Marc Anthony…the list could go on. I want to eventually try to write a piece of nonfiction, but that’s proving to be much harder than I expected. I was able to study with the incomparable Julie Marie Wade when I was at FIU, and her lyric essay class really inspired me to try my hand at that ever-evolving form, but it’s really difficult for me not to turn those essay embryo into poems! One day, one day.

Any reading recommendations you can make?

I’ve just started reading Olio (I know, I’m late!) and it is absolutely brilliant. I’m into it.

New books are forthcoming from Justin Phillip Reed, Luther Hughes, Jonah Mixon-Webster, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Fatimah Asghar, Kwoya Fagin Maples, and gosh a million more I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Check out Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s new book, SCAR ON/ SCAR OFF.
The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
Literally anything written by Gwendolyn Brooks
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemons
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
Strippers in Wonderland by Derrick Harriell
literally anything by Lucille Clifton—literally
the lyrics to “Cuando Estoy Contigo” by Celia Cruz

Any recent publications we can check out?

Yes! I’ll list the online ones here, but if you’re into hard copies, I’m in the newest edition of Terminus Magazine and the forthcoming issues of Obsidian Journal and Talking River!

“There Is a Bell at Morehouse College” at Origins. Plus an interview.

I’m a new board member of The Alabama Writers’ Conclave.

There are two poems at Track//Four, a poem at Inspicio, and two at Tupelo Quarterly.

What are you working on? Any future projects you can discuss?

I’m sending out my second full length manuscript—hoping for good news in 2018. I’m still working in my community, co-coordinating the Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series and other events around town. There’s some more things up my sleeve that I can’t discuss just yet, but I’m working very hard to make sure Birmingham is squarely on the literary map. I’ll do all I can to contribute to that effort!

 

A big thanks to Ashley M. Jones for her time. You can follow with her work and readings at her website.

Posted in: Interviews