THE UNIVERSITY OF Houston has had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to poets taking home big prizes over the past year. First, UH grad Jericho Brown won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection The Tradition, then UH Creative Writing Program faculty member francine j. harris won the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for Here is the Sweet Hand. On Monday, April 26, you'll have a rare opportunity to see the two prize winners in conversation, when the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series hosts Brown for a virtual event. Starting at 7pm, Brown will read from his work, and this will be followed by a conversation with Harris.
Brown lived in Houston from 2002 to 2008 and received a PhD from UH in creative writing. He now teaches at Emory. When he won the Pulitzer, the prize committee called his work "a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence."
Shortly after winning the Pulitzer, Brown told the Houston Chronicle that his years in the city had been transformative for him. He moved here after living in New Orleans, and one of the first things he did was change his name. He then found a community — a Black gay underground scene — which gave him great joy. "I lived near Hobby Airport. I thought it was a great apartment. The rent was cheap. I didn't want to leave the diversity of Houston," he told theChronicle. "When I think of Houston, I don't think of the creative writing program. I think of all the fun I had. A party city."
He even created a poetic form inspired by the city, one he dubbed "The Duplex." It involves couplets and a complicated scheme of lines that echo each other. Like swimming through the heat on a summer day in Houston, it creates a peculiar kind of hypnotic mood.
Here is a sample from one of four Duplex poems that appear in The Tradition.
I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don't want to leave a messy corpse.
I don't want to leave a messy corpse
Full of medicines that turn in the sun.
Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don't need hell to be good.
Don't miss Monday's opportunity to explore the poetic depths of your city.