Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s first book, The Gospel
of Barbecue, was chosen for the 1999 Wick Prize for Poetry by Lucille
Clifton, who called it “sweet and sassy, hot and biting." This
collection, finalist for the 2001 Paterson Poetry Prize and Converse
College’s 2002 Julia Peterkin Award winner, is rich with flavor
and music, but also with stories of personal and political violation. “I
hear people and I feel them inside of me, inside my skin, she says. “The
people who come to me come because I understand and I’ve been there.
They are voiceless."
Jeffers credits “the courageous authors who spoke to me in my childhood" for
her own inspiration, writers like James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, and dedicates
her second volume, Outlandish Blues, “to Mama and Mr. Langston Hughes."
She also acknowledges and the poems reflect her large debt to many black recording
artists, including Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Aretha Franklin.
The book is full of fiery and forthright lyrics that burst from the page into
song. Outlandish Blues explores the “blue notes shared by the secular
and spiritual traditions" and features such diverse characters as Dinah Washington
and Lot’s Wife. Despair is met with wit and grace and sweaty honesty: “I
don’t write uplifting poems. The uplift is in the survival."
A founding member of Cave Canem, the writer’s colony for African American
poets, Jeffers is recipient of awards from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the
Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women, and has been a fellow at Breadloaf and
MacDowell colonies. While she grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, and currently teaches
at the University of Oklahoma, Jeffers was educated at Talladega College and
the University of Alabama, and ended up spending some twenty years in Alabama,
which she still considers home.