Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Brooklyn resident Gregory Pardlo is currently at work on a memoir-in-essays, he is a faculty member of the Rutgers University-Camden MFA program and associate editor of Callaloo. His prize-winning collection of poems, Digest, emerged after the birth of his second child: a book about fatherhood, it’s also about history, about scholarship, and pretentious, funny, sad, tender spaces in between. One poem, a review of a fictional how-to book, asks: “How and how soon should you intervene if you suspect your child lacks rhythm? At what age should you begin initiating your little one to the historical memory of slavery?” One title for the not-really-real book: What to Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting Revolution.
How did you become the writer you are?
One of the many things responsible for my being the writer that I am was my frustration with the ways I was taught to read literature—poetry in particular. I was a creative reader, and I had difficulty taking a back seat to previous readers’ interpretations. I often wanted to use the text to make something new. The only place I found I could do that was outside the classroom, on my own.
What are you working on now? What is at stake?
I’m finishing up an essay collection. Or maybe it’s a memoir, I don’t know. When I started this project, I imagined the book as a kind of homage to St. Augustine, Montaigne and John Henry Newman—not that I’d read any of these authors thoroughly enough to do anything but playfully mimic their ambition. Since the last Presidential election, however, I’d like the book to add something, if only a footnote, to the conversation about who we are as a nation.
What is your proudest achievement? Your greatest challenge?
It’s hard to let go of old resentments and fears. But when I see my kids laughing and happy, I’m done. I don’t need much more than that out of life.
What do you hope changes or improves in your field?
Not so much something I hope changes, but something I’m glad to see happening: I cheer for the poets who are destabilizing our cultural assumptions. I don’t think it’s healthy to have any rigidly policed or adhered to standards. It’s important to have affirmational poetry, but our poetry has to do more than affirm our beliefs in who we are, and what’s beautiful, right and moral.
What does Brooklyn mean to you?
Brooklyn is my bubble and my bunker. It’s where I feel safe enough to think and write.
Who would you nominate for this list?
My neighbors Sateen & Exquisite.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.