Patricia Spears Jones Honored with NY State Poet Award

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It looks like Brooklyn is the literary capital of New York State. The New York State Writers Institute has honored two nationally acclaimed Black women writers living in Brooklyn. Award-winning novelist and young adult author Jacqueline Woodson has been named the State Author and will receive the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction. Acclaimed poet Patricia Spears Jones has been named State Poet and will receive the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poetry. This prestigious award was established in 1985 by Governor Mario M. Cuomo and the State Legislature to promote fiction and poetry in New York and is presented biennially by the New York State Writers Institute.

“I am just thrilled. I got a citation with Walt Whitman‘s name on it. Even though he’s a complicated figure in American poetics, he’s an amazing poet,” Patricia Spears Jones, a creative writing professor at Barnard College, told Our Time Press. “And I do this with Jacqueline Woodson, who is an extraordinary writer and thinker. She really has done so much for young people of color and queer people of color.”

Jones, who was born in Arkansas and lives in Bed Stuy, has an expansive career that began in the 1970s and spans poet, playwright, educator, cultural activist and anthologist. She’s the author of A Lucent Fire New and Selected Poems and three full-length collections and five chapbooks. Her poems are published in Plume, The New Yorker, and The Brooklyn Rail and are widely anthologized most recently in African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song and Why To These Rocks: 50 Years of Poems from the Community of Writers. Jones created the WORDS Sunday series in Brooklyn and has taught Creative Writing at Hunter College, Barnard College, and Adelphi University.

Her poem “Lave” was commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art for the exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The Migrations Series. She’s received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Foundation of Contemporary Art among many others.

In 2017, the veteran poet’s life changed when she was presented with The Jackson Poetry Prize, one the most prestigious awards for American poets with a $50,000 grant. “I knew my life was about to change and it did,” she said. “I had professional recognition. I’m now on a poet’s list that includes Elizabeth Alexander and Claudia Rankine. They don’t put you on the list unless you’re damn good. It’s a boost to one’s own self-confidence.”

This fall, her poetry book The Beloved Community will be published. It’s about “accidental intimacies” in life. “Like when you go to the park and all of a sudden you see a wedding reception. We are on the train and somebody is in tears because they just broke up with whoever,” she explained. “There are these moments where you are suddenly engaged in a stranger’s life. How do we then respond to those things? How do we call on our own humanity to connect with others?”

Jones believes that “poetry is a go-to genre when people are in crisis. In the last 25-30 years we’ve been a people in crisis,” she said. “What did people do after 911? They wrote poems. What did people do during Covid? They wrote poems. On that emotional, psychological level, poetry is extremely important.”