Poet Jericho Brown On The Consuming Inspirations Of 'The Tradition'

Jan 3, 2020

Jericho Brown’s newest collection of poetry, The Tradition, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2019. Lauded by critics as “stunning,” “riveting,” and one of the best poetry collections in 2019, the gut-wrenchingly personal poems in his latest collection explore the complex tensions between love, violence, masculinity and trauma — all within the LGBTQ Black experience in the South.

Brown was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and went to school in New Orleans. He’s lived everywhere from Houston to San Diego to Iowa, and today he’s Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.


Brown joined On Second Thought to share the inspiration for The Tradition, much of which poured out of him in a matter of months.

“Something happened between Thanksgiving of 2017 and Martin Luther King Day of 2018,” he shared. “I wrote 40 something poems … and they were strong. I felt in my spirit that I was really doing good work.”

Brown said that while the poems were saving his life, they were also killing him. “They were calling out to me in ways that I couldn’t stop,” he shared. “I was writing poems on elevators, pulling my car over to get poems written down. … It was a moment of inspiration that I was so grateful for, but also completely exhausted by.”

Brown’s poems have garnered national acclaim and appeared on several best-of lists at the end of 2019. He reflected that while the American dream may have come true for him, it came at a different cost. “I think the American dream coming true for someone who is the grandson of sharecroppers means that it came true for someone who is the grandson of sharecroppers,” he noted. “I understand myself to be an exception.”  

Brown’s poems reveal deeply personal moments from his life, which he says is part of how he's chosen to give himself poetry. “I think my experience with being a poet is in order to have some successes, I had some failures, and part of my failures was that I wasn’t willing to give my life away to poetry. You have to give yourself completely, and once it becomes a part of your life, what you give for it is also what you get back from it.”

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