Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Young, Jericho Brown, and the Emory model
If there was some active system highlighting the news and developments in the world of black poetry, then certainly there would have been coverage related to the convergence of notable, award-winning African American poets in Emory University's Creative Writing Program. Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Young, and now Jericho Brown are in a single department at the university, making it one of the relatively few "elite" schools with a poet faculty comprised of African Americans.
I hadn't thought about that fact until Brown made me aware of it at a recent gathering in St. Louis. The grouping of the three prominent poets in a single department might not become widely noticed in any of the major rankings because Emory does not have an MFA program. Thus, the poets might not have the same kind of influence that poets who teach graduate level courses have on their students and thus the field.
It's likely, however, that Trethewey, Young, and Brown will have a hand in encouraging undergraduate poets to go on to MFA programs, and the three poets will continue to make their marks in broader fields of poetry based on their works and achievements. Over the last 10 years, Trethewey and Young have established themselves as two of our most prominent "new" literary figures, and in a relatively short amount of time after the release of his first book Please (2009), Brown has become more and more well known and earned important recognition for his work, including a Whiting Writers' Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
University officials and departments that pay attention to developments in undergraduate creative writing programs will certainly take note of the grouping of poets that Emory has managed to assemble. And who knows, it's possible that some will follow this "Emory model" and break the widespread "one at a time" practice where universities tend to only employ a single black poet.
Related: African American Poets and Academic Appointments