Visiting writer shares his passion and poetry


A. Van Jordan will be reading on April 18 at 7:30 in the Maloney Room. 

Life & Arts Editor

Award-winning poet A. Van Jordan will visit our campus on April 18 as the latest installment of the Marcia Kinsey Visiting Writers Series in celebration of National Poetry Month.

Jordan has published four books since 2001, the latest being “The Cineaste,” which was released earlier this month.

The former University of Texas professor lived in Austin for three and a half years and currently teaches at the University of Michigan.

Brooke Blanton: When did you first know you were a poet?

A. Van Jordan: The first time I felt like a poet was the first time I got something published. I had been a journalist before, so I was used to having a byline, but it was a very different experience seeing my name associated with something that I was so invested in.

BB: When did you first get published?

AVJ: 1996. It was a little journal from a small college in Pennsylvania, Lycoming College. The journal was called ”Brilliant Corners.” It’s a beautiful journal.

BB: Where did you get your training?

AVJ: When I lived in D.C. there was a very vibrant literary scene. At the time I was just going to readings, and then I started going to workshops. I entered an MFA program at George Mason University and stayed a semester there. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I dropped out. Then I ended up in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College.

BB: Tell me about your new book, “The Cineaste.”

AVJ: “The Cineaste” operates on two frequencies. On one frequency, it is an exploration of film in general. There are times where I cast myself as the protagonist or antagonist in the film or I’ll riff off the theme of the film. They are films that in some way or another meant something to me. On the other level is a large poem which tells the story of how Oscar Micheaux, an African American independent filmmaker, became a filmmaker. This guy just taught himself how to make film and ended up making over 40 films in his life.

BB: What is your favorite movie?

AVJ: One of my favorite films is “The Untouchables,” and my other favorite is “American Gigolo.” “The Untouchables” is just an incredibly beautiful film on every level. I remember watching the movie and being completely enthralled by the story. When “American Gigolo” came out, I had never seen anything like it before. The same with “The Untouchables.”

BB: Why poetry?

AVJ: Poetry has the most artistic freedom of any art form. We can pretty much deal with any subject matter we want to. People who don’t encounter poetry on a daily basis are often really struck when they encounter a poem and they connect with it. There are people who have read a poem when they were a child and it stuck with them the rest of their lives.

BB: What percent of your poems actually go into your books?

AVJ: I’m pretty conservative with the amount of writing I do. I may write 10 poems a year. Maybe eight of the 10 make it into the collection. I’m not someone who writes a poem every day. A good deal of time goes into thinking about the poem. The percentage is so high because I’m so slow at actually putting things on paper.

BB: What was your impression of Austin?

AVJ: There are so many things about Austin that I really enjoy, but I thought it was incredibly segregated. I’d go places and be the only person of color. Then I’d go over to the east side to get my haircut and it’s a whole new world. It always bothered me that the city was so divided that way. But my favorite thing about Austin was the film scene, which I think is very underrated. I thought it was very vibrant.

BB: What are you working on now?

AVJ: I’m working on a book that orbits around issues of race, but it’s not from the perspective that one would normally take. I’m focusing on the history of Hawaii and using it as a springboard or metaphor for the rest of the country.

Jordan’s visit will take place in the Maloney Room at 7:30 on April 18.