Friday, April 3, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander, Poet

Elizabeth Alexander published her first book of poetry, The Venus Hottentot, in 1990, followed by the poetry collections Body of Life (1996), Antebellum Dream Book (2001), American Sublime (2005), and, with co-author Marilyn Nelson, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (2008), a book for young adults. In her poetry Elizabeth Alexander captures the ideas, the moments, the perceptions, and the sensations, that are missed, usually, in the first and second drafts of history, the real stories of human lives. I found her American Sublime a particularly beautiful book and was surprised that her essays in The Black Interior were as interesting, as impressive. Alexander, who teaches in Yale’s African American Studies department, has a second, more recent, book of essays, Power and Possibility. She is a writer to watch, and to listen to, as much of America learned when she participated in the inauguration of President Barack Obama; but, more significantly, she will be, for a very long time, a poet whose work is to be read. There have been appreciative and critical comments made about the poem she wrote for that historic day in January, and I was curious to know what Elizabeth Alexander herself had learned from the experience (I sent her an e-mail query at the end of March and she quickly responded).

What did you learn about public poetry as a result of your inauguration experience?

Elizabeth Alexander:
"From the literally thousands of letter and emails I have received form strangers, I learned that so many people are open and receptive to public poetry. They meet it as it comes to them and respond with their own words, feelings, stories. That has been very powerful and affirming of the ability of art to have a place in the everyday lives of Americans."