Two new writers have come to town.
On Tuesday, the Kenyon Review’s 2016-2018 Fellows, Margaree Little and Jaquira Diaz, introduced themselves to campus with a reading in Cheever Room.
Little and Diaz replace the previous fellows, Jamaal May for poetry and Melinda Moustakis for prose. During their two years at Kenyon, Little and Diaz will be working with the Kenyon Review staff, teaching one course a semester and working to expand their own bodies of work.
“They are extraordinary writers and inspiring teachers,” David Lynn, editor in chief of the Kenyon Review, said. “We believe they will not only be great members of the Kenyon literary community, but will go on to be significant forces in American literature in the future.”
Margaree Little Kenyon Review Fellow in Poetry
Margaree Little did not instantly realize that the sequence of connected poems she began writing in 2012 would become her first book. She had not even planned to write the poems in the first place.
That year, during Little’s involvement in immigrant rights activism at the U.S.-Mexico border, near her home of Tucson, Ariz., she met a group of people who had found an unidentified man’s body in the desert.
The man was likely an undocumented immigrant, Little thought. “There’s been an increased militarization of the border there, meaning that people who are crossing, basically to survive or to reunite with family members here, are having to cross in increasingly remote areas of the desert,” Little said.
The poems in Rest — forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2018 — are elegies to that unidentified person, Little said, and they explore “related questions of responsibility and care, as far as the political context in which [that death] occurred.”
Little read from Rest on Tuesday. Her voice was sweet yet somber, appropriate for the dark and beautiful nature of her poems.
She has published her poems, many of which deal with themes related to the U.S.-Mexico border, in a wide array of journals, including the The American Poetry Review and The Missouri Review, which selected her hauntingly sparse “What Was Missing” as its poem of the week in December 2012.
During her two years at Kenyon, Little hopes to begin a second poetry collection. She will also continue her recent efforts to translate works by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, although she does not speak Russian. “I’m using a lot of dictionaries,” Little said. “I’ve been learning a lot from doing it.”
Little likes Kenyon so far, although the size of the Village has left an impression on her. “Everybody knows each other,” she said, “and everybody seems to know where everybody lives.”
Jaquira Diaz Kenyon Review Fellow in Prose
The first time Jaquira Diaz became a finalist for the Kenyon Review Fellowship in Prose four years ago, she withdrew from the contest. The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, Wis. had offered her a similar fellowship, and Diaz accepted it instead.
But she never gave up her wish of coming to Gambier someday. “I always intended to apply for the Kenyon Review Fellowship again,” she said.
Since then, Diaz has garnered a hefty list of career accomplishments, including a Pushcart Prize in 2012 for her story “Section 8,” which follows a teenager’s attempts to maneuver an adolescence marked by stints in juvenile hall, neglectful parents and a relationship with her best friend complicated by the outside world.
Kenyon Review readers may also remember “Ghosts,” Diaz’s short fiction piece published in winter of 2014, in which she drew from her own experience in the military, or her more recent creative essay, “Ordinary Girls,” from the November/December 2015 issue.
During her fellowship here, Diaz hopes to finish her nonfiction book, also titled Ordinary Girls, and then begin a novel. Part memoir and part journalism, Ordinary Girls will explore themes of girlhood in her hometown of Miami Beach, Fla. and also weave in the tale of Ana Cardona, a woman who murdered her child in 1990.
“It’s kind of exploring her story, and how she went from being a girl to the woman that she became,” Diaz said. “It’s a book about girls: about girls growing up, how girls become women.”
Diaz ended Tuesday’s reading with an Ordinary Girls excerpt about Cardona’s dead child. Before she began her reading, she joked, “There are also bodies in my work — we didn’t plan this.”
Article by Frances Saux and Devon Musgrave-Johnson