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A Virtual Interview with Adrienne Christian

Background

 Upcoming Features


BookWoman 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic with Adrienne Christian – In Person and On Zoom

February 9, 2023  7:15 .m. to 9:00 p.m.

Zoom Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-and-open-mic-featuring-adrienne-christian-tickets-498453968237

Please join us for the first of our hybrid in-store / Zoom 2nd Thursday events! Our feature, Adrienne Christian, will be at BookWoman (5500 N. Lamar), and we will also be connecting via Zoom. Please note that BookWoman requires masks at all in-person events. 

Adrienne Christian is a writer and fine art photographer, and the author of three poetry collections – Worn (Santa Fe Writers Project, 2021), A Proper Lover, (Mainstreet Rag, 2017), and 12023 Woodmont Avenue (Willow Lit, 2003). Her poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and photography have been featured in various journals including Prairie Schooner, Hayden’s Ferry Review, CALYX, phoebe, No Tokens, World Literature Today, and the Los Angeles Review as the Editor’s Choice. Her work has been anthologized widely and has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize. In 2020, her poem “Wedding Dress” won the Common Ground Review Poetry Award. In 2016, she won the Rita Dove International Poetry Award and in 2007 the University of Michigan’s Five Under Ten Young Alumni Award. 

Adrienne is a fellow of Cave Canem and Callaloo writing residencies, and has been featured on panels by Ms. Magazine and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She has served as editor or jury member for various prizes including the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, the Penumbra Poetry and Haiku Contest, the Cave Canem Starshine and Clay Fellowship, and the Nebraska Poetry Society Poetry Award. She is an associate editor at Backbone Press, and founder of the Blue Ridge Mountains Writing Collective, and holds a BA from the University of Michigan (2001), an MFA from Pacific University (2011), and a PhD from the University of Nebraska (2020).

The Interview

 CH: What is your first memory of poetry? What drew you to poetry as a means of expression?

AC: My first memory of poetry was in second grade. My elementary school was having a student poetry writing contest. My teacher, Ms. Simmons, taught a lesson on poetry, and then assigned us students to write poems to enter into the contest. Mine won second place. A few years later, again in school, I discovered Shel Silverstein and was hooked.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

AC: In 10th grade. My Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Kiersey, would ask us students to read our short stories aloud. Whenever I shared my stories, he’d point to me and say to the class, “There’s a writer!”

CH: I understand you are a fine art photographer as well as a poet. How does your practice of photography inform your writing practice?

AC: I am so glad that you asked! Photography serves as a balance to my writing life. With writing, I am always sitting alone at my desk. With photography, I am out trekking in the world, meeting people. With writing, I am in my head. With photography, I get out of my head and into my body.

Also, I see photography as an extension of writing. Both are about the story. And, photography is actually translated as writing with light (Photo, as in photosynthesis (light), and Graph, as in writing/hand (autograph). So, photography is writing as well, just with light instead of with a pen. Writing on its own really has the power to move people. So does photography. Together, they are infinitely powerful, and I like that about being a Writer/Photographer.

CH: Congratulations on the publication of your third collection, Worn. What inspired these poems? How did the book come about?

AC: Thank you! Another really good question. Worn is a collection of poems that all feature clothing in some way. The why of what we wear runs deep – so, I wanted to capture that in these poems. At first, I was collecting clothing poems in an anthology I had hoped to publish. But reading so much about clothing poems, I felt inspired to write my own.

CH: I find that I want to read the non-capitalized poems of Worn as if they are in a more “interior” voice, especially given many appear toward the middle of their sections. Is this an intended reading?

AC: Yes. I want those poems to be quieter.

CH: In less than a decade, you’ve published three collections: 12023 Woodmont Avenue (Willow Lit, 2013), A Proper Lover (Main Street Rag, 2017), and now Worn (Santa Fe Writer’s Project, 2021). What through lines do you see in these collections? What’s changed the most in your approach to writing and revision over these years?

AC: The throughline is love. In Woodmont Avenue, the speaker is lacking and longing for familial love. In A Proper Lover, the speaker is on a journey to find, and become, a proper lover, in spite of what’s been done to her. Worn, too, is about love – agape, filial, and eros.

Another through line is the African-American experience.

A third is bravery – my poems tend to tackle sensitive topics that people are often hesitant to discuss, but want to, and perhaps need to.

A fourth is pain – I often go to the poetry page to write in response to something that is heavy on my heart or mind.

CH: The first two of these collections came out while you were pursuing your PhD in Creative Writing, and the first of them came out not long after you received your MFA. What started you on your academic journey in creative writing? What was the most surprising thing that you’ve learned along the way?

AC: Actually, Woodmont Avenue came out in 2013, two years after I’d finished my MFA at Pacific University. A Proper Lover was accepted in February of 2016, months before I was accepted to and went to Nebraska. And Worn was accepted in late 2020, a few months after I’d finished my PhD at Nebraska.

Now that you ask these questions, in fact, it gives me more clarity on my own writing process. I tend to write/publish books after I am done with school. School fills the well, and once I’m done I can tap the well. Does that make sense?

I decided to get my PhD for two reasons – I wanted to learn to write literary nonfiction, and I wanted to learn to do research.

One thing that has surprised me is how absolutely in love I am with the writing life. I love reading, teaching, writing, researching, listening to all things literary. I love buying books. I love supporting other writers. I love readings writers’ stories. I love writing retreats. I love craft talks. I love books all over my house. I even travel with books though they often put my suitcase over-weight. I just can’t get enough of this stuff – it’s like a love affair that never grows old, or stales. Living the Writing Life fills me up in ways that no other thing can. I believe that is why I came to this planet – to write (to change the world).

CH: In addition to poetry, you’ve published a number of non-fiction pieces. Where would you like to take your writing in the next few years?

AC: I have two nonfiction pieces I’m working on now, and I’d like to see them published. One is a collection of personal essays called How I Got Over. It’s a blueprint of how I went from a life of anguish to a life of joy. The second collection doesn’t have a title yet, but these are essays from my life on the road – the lessons I learned. I’ve visited all 50 United States and 62 countries. I learned a lot, and want to share what I learned with readers.

CH: I’m always excited to be introduced to writers who are new to me. Do you have a recommendation you can share for an outstanding debut poetry collection?

AC: Have you read Gabebe Baderoon’s A hundred silences? It’s a stunning collection. One anthology I love is black nature, edited by Camille Dungy – nature poems by Black poets. It’s lovely. Oh, and Frank Chupasula’ Bending the Bow, which are all African love poems. This is the collection I keep by my bed. I am very much interested in African love stories.

CH: What do you read for relaxation?

AC: Spiritual literature — Hafiz’s poems, African proverbs, Buddhism quotes. These books are also by my bedside.

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Adrienne Christian