From Our Soundbooth | March 10, 2016

This week on The Missouri Review Soundbooth Podcast, we interview inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander. Our interview was conducted during the Miami Book Fair International in Miami, Florida.


Elizabeth Alexander is the author of six books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize; two collections of essays; and The Light of the World, her critically acclaimed memoir on love and loss. Her writing explores such subjects as race, gender, politics, art, and history. Her acclaimed essays “‘Can You Be BLACK and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)” and “Meditations on ‘Mecca’: Gwendolyn Brooks and the Responsibilities of the Black Poet” have enlivened the debate on the role of art and social justice and addressed issues of race, representation, violence, and the vulnerable black body. In 2009, she wrote and delivered her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Here we discuss the drive to write, Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World, and life after delivering the inaugural poem, among other topics. To find out more about Elizabeth Alexander, visit her website.

Check out an excerpt of the interview below:

You were Obama’s first inaugural poet. How has your view of yourself as a writer changed since the inauguration?

At the level of the writing itself, it would be a bad thing if I let my writing change. I learned this from Derek Walcott. Every day is a blank page. You start anew, humbled before the task. That’s how [Walcott] behaves as an elder and that’s how you have to be when you meet your work. Always. Now, as far as the job part of my work, the out-in-the-world part of my work, after the inaugural I felt really good that I could do what I’ve always done. Share my work. Teach. Talk about African American studies and American culture and its rich diversity. And I’d have more opportunities to do so. So it’s like the old folks say, “Just be ready.” So if you’re ready, when you have an opportunity to [show] your work in a broader and more effective way, you can do that. But the actual making of the work is your protected zone.

Don’t forget about our annual spring Audio Contest, with winners in the categories of fiction, prose, audio documentary, and humor each receiving an award of $1,000.

Interview conducted by Jennifer McCauley.