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.

 


 

Poems by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

An Old Lady Told Me

Unidentified Female Student, Former Slave
(Talladega College, circa 1885)

 

 

 

Poetry Center Reading:

 
      Spring 2004 (with Tim Seibles)