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Poet Jenny Sadre-Orafai on Superstition, Hair Color, and Building a Literary Life

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A blog from: The Staff of Poets & Writers

Posted by RW Blogger on 8.16.13

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four chapbooks. Recent poetry has appeared in Rhino, [PANK], The Bakery, Sixth Finch, ILK, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and Poemeleon. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, Delirious Hem, the Los Angeles Review, and South Loop Review. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Assistant Professor of English at Kennesaw State University. This past spring, she participated in a P&W–supported reading with poet Heather Tosteson at the Dekalb Public Library in Atlanta.

Jenny Sadre-OrafaiWhat opportunities are there for younger writers such as yourself to build a literary life/livelihood?
The internet and social networking sites are wonderful resources for those who, like me, might be shier than others. They serve as great tools to be in conversation with other writers.

There is also much to be said for writers’ conferences and being in that kind of environment. There’s a sense of camaraderie and mentorship that is difficult to find once you leave college (if you attend college).

It’s really important that younger writers are proactive and seek out living the literary life if that’s what they truly want. Being passive isn’t really an option when it comes to being a writer, not for me at least.

Does your bicultural background (Mexican and Iranian) play a significant role in your writing?
So much of what I write about is who I am and who I came from. What Her Hair Says About Her, my second chapbook, is largely about having dark hair and wanting blonde hair, and then wanting my dark hair back. I associate my hair color with where I come from.

My fourth chapbook, Avoid Disaster, is based on my research of different superstitions from around the world. Those poems were written because I am an extremely superstitious human and because of the superstitions that were a part of my life growing up.

Can you describe a memorable moment from an event you’ve been part of?
After a recent reading, some people came up to tell me that they really enjoyed my poems about my grandmother and how she read coffee cups. That compliment led to a discussion about superstitions—which animals come for the dead in different cultures (a fox in Iran and a hummingbird in Mexico). By the end of the exchange, the group had almost tripled in size.

I always assumed that people would be leery of superstitions, but I’ve learned that most people are not only intrigued by them, they also don’t find them terribly difficult to believe. The conversations that happen after readings—and the listening I get to practice—are what makes them even more rewarding.

What are your reading dos?
I try to always be prepared with poems I think work well together and have a nice momentum, but I’m also ready to change things up depending on how the reading is going. I'm more aware of breathing and grateful for the opportunity to be heard. Perhaps what’s most important is that I take my time when I read, so I’m there in that moment with everyone else.

…and your reading don’ts?
I avoid long-winded explanations. A little background information here and there allows the reading to be more of a conversation, but I try to limit how much I talk between or about poems since I think the audience is there to hear the poems.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
It’s such an extraordinary thing to be able to meet other people who write or love to read and listen to literature. These programs serve as important reminders that even though writing and reading are mostly solitary acts, we are not so alone.

Photo: Jenny Sadre-Orafai. Credit: Stephanie Sadre-Orafai.
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