| Give a Gift |

  • Digital Edition

Exalted Utterance: An Interview With Major Jackson

In 1996 poet Cornelius Eady wrote a short piece for the New Yorker showcasing the Dark Room Collective—a group, Eady claimed, “that could well turn out to be as important to American letters as the Harlem Renaissance.”

In the photograph accompanying that essay, seven of the members—all young African American poets—pose with eyes closed, faces lifted sunward, except for one. Major Jackson stares directly at the lens, arms crossed: his posture determined, his expression serious and calm.

In person Jackson gives off the same composed aura, although his gravity is broken often by a deep, hearty laugh. We met early one warm morning in the apartment where he was staying in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Although Jackson lives in South Burlington, Vermont, where he is a professor of English at the University of Vermont, he treks to New York City often to see friends, occasionally taking on visiting teaching stints at colleges such as New York University and Columbia. He also serves as a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars, a low-residency program.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Jackson initially pursued an accounting degree at Temple University, changing course along the way after becoming part of Philadelphia’s artistic community, where, as he puts it, “the visual artists know the dancers and the dancers know the deejays and the deejays know the performance artists and poets.”

In 1995, at just twenty-six years old, Jackson was awarded a fifty-thousand-dollar Pew Fellowship in the Arts, which gave him two years to write. During that time, he joined the Dark Room Collective, which by then included Thomas Sayers Ellis, John Keene, Janice Lowe, Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Sharan Strange, Natasha Trethewey, Artress Bethany White, and Kevin Young, among others, and was performing “drive-by readings” at colleges and literary arts centers across the country.

Jackson was one of the first Cave Canem fellows, a group chosen to participate in a weeklong retreat for African American poets; in fact, his debut poetry collection, Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia Press, 2002), was chosen by Al Young for the second annual Cave Canem Poetry Prize and went on to receive a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2006 Norton published his follow-up, Hoops, which was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award.

That year Jackson joined another interdisciplinary community. Instead of dancers and deejays, he worked with physicists, sociologists, historians, and fellows from other varied backgrounds at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. While there, he began writing what would become his new collection, Holding Company, published in August by Norton. The long lines and poems, many of them sequences about urban life, which characterize his earlier books, have been supplanted in his new collection by concise, ten-line lyrical poems in which Jackson explores new territory—the realm of the ecstatic.

Reader Comments

Article Permissions
Exalted Utterance: An Interview With Major Jackson (September/October 2010)

In the details box below, please include information about the reprint permissions you'd like granted.

Thank you for your permissions request. We do our best to respond immediately, but it may take up to three business days.

City Guide

by Jen Michalski

Author Jen Michalski takes us on a tour of the many literary sites writers should visit while strolling the gritty streets of Baltimore.

Upcoming Events
Cleveland State University Library
October 24, 2014 (All day)
October 24, 2014 (All day)
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
October 24, 2014 - 9:00am
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
October 24, 2014 - 5:00pm
Poetry/Fiction/Creative Nonfiction
Split This Rock
October 24, 2014 - 5:30pm
Conferences & Residencies
West Cork, Ireland
Riga, Latvia
Charlotte, North Carolina
Writing Contests
Provincetown OuterMost Community Radio
University of Evansville
American Library Association
Magazine Articles

by Mira Ptacin

November/December 2014

Despite struggles, libraries are learning to navigate the ever-changing, and often cost-prohibitive, landscape of digital lending.


by Staff

Politics & Prose replaces Barnes & Noble as official National Book Festival bookseller; new Berryman volume and reissues released; Carlos Lozada named nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post; and other news.

Directory of Writers
Beverly, MA
Cincinnati, OH
New York, NY

Subscribe to P&W Magazine | Donate Now | Advertise | Sign up for E-Newsletter | Help | About Us | Contact Us | View Mobile Site

© Copyright Poets & Writers 2014. All Rights Reserved