On Tuesday, April 5, Converse will celebrate National Poetry Month with a reading and reception with award-winning poet Allison Joseph. The event will be held at 8 PM in the Bain Room of Wilson Hall, and is open to the public with free admission. For more information, call (864) 596-9111.
“Poetry is an art form– and so it’s varied like any other art form,” says Aliison Joseph. “Readers will encounter poets who are more accessible and poets who are less accessible. Just as in painting, there are works that are clearly representational and works that are more abstract. So readers should realize there’s a huge spectrum of poetry and then make discoveries as to what they’d like to read. There’s something for everyone.”
Joseph lives, writes and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “I like to say that I didn’t choose to be a poet – it chose me,” she says. “I have always been in love with words, their power to move and console and change people’s minds and feelings.”
She serves as editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review, a national journal of literary works, and director of the Young Writers Workshop for high-school writers. She is author of six books of poems: What Keeps Us Here (1992, winner of the Ampersand Press Women Poets Series Prize and the John C. Zacharis Prize from Ploughshares and Emerson College), Soul Train (1997, Carnegie Mellon University Press), In Every Seam (1997, University of Pittsburgh Press), Imitation of Life (2003, Carnegie Mellon UP), Worldly Pleasures (2004, winner of the Word Press Poetry Prize) and My Father’s Kites (2010, Steel Toe Books). She is also the author of a chapbook, Voice: Poems, published in 2009 by Mayapple Press.
“The Converse Creative Writing program provides our MFA and BFA students the broadest possible exposure to literary studies and contemporary writing. We want students to work closely with as many serious professional writers as possible,” said Rick Mulkey, director of the creative writing program at Converse. “Allison Joseph is the kind of writer I like to have our students and the community meet. She is a writer who can’t imagine a life without writing and reading, and who puts all her energy and enthusiasm into doing it. Allison Joseph is a writer to admire and support.”
Allison Joseph was born in 1967 in London, England, to parents of Caribbean descent. Her mother left her native Jamaica to become a nurse; her father left Grenada to become an electrician. Not long after her birth, the family moved to Toronto, Canada, finally settling in the New York City borough of the Bronx in 1971.
Joseph was educated at the Bronx High School of Science. Though her parents wanted her to pursue medicine in college, she wanted to pursue literary studies, and chose a college with a respected literary reputation. She left for Kenyon College in Ohio in 1984 and underwent enormous culture shock–she was one of only three black students in that year’s entering freshman class. Little did she realize that Kenyon’s literary reputation was, for the most part, all white and all male. In spite of this, she continued to write poems–many of them fueled by her family’s history as immigrants to the United States. After graduating from Kenyon in 1998, Joseph moved on to Indiana University at Bloomington, where she studied with such prominent poets as Maura Stanton, Yusef Komunyakaa, and David Wojahn. At Indiana, she met and married Jon Tribble, a poet and writer from Arkansas.
Memories of growing up in New York City with parents of Caribbean heritage fill Joseph’s poetry. She illuminates her Bronx neighborhood, her family struggles, love relationships and friendship. During her sophomore year of college, her mother passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. Poems about her mother’s ordeal would form the basis of Joseph’s MFA thesis and first book, What Keeps Us Here.
Joseph began her teaching career at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and joined the poetry faculty at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale two years later.
In 1997, her father passed away from diabetes. Her most recent work, My Father’s Kites, is a sequence of 34 sonnets about him.