“Nezhukumatathil speaks with resonance and fierceness…” —Publishers Weekly
“Aimee Nezhukumatathil is able to handle serious subjects with the lightest of touches. Her edgy humor and keen eye keep her poems buoyant and fresh.” —Billy Collins
“Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems are as ripe, funny, and fresh as a precious friendship. They’re the fullness of days, deliciously woven of heart and verve….Poems like these revive our souls.” —Naomi Shihab Nye
“Nezhukumatathil’s poems contain elegant twists of a very sharp knife. She writes about the natural world and how we live in it, filling each poem, each page with a true sense of wonder.”—Roxane Gay
Born to a Filipino mother and Malayali Indian father, Aimee Nezhukumatathil (neh-ZOO / koo-mah / tah-TILL) is the author of four books of poetry: Oceanic (Copper Canyon 2018); Lucky Fish (2011), winner of the Hoffer Grand Prize for Prose and Independent Books; At the Drive-In Volcano (2007); and Miracle Fruit (2003), all from Tupelo Press. Her collection of nature essays, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, is forthcoming from Milkweed in 2020. With Ross Gay, she co-authored Lace & Pyrite, a chapbook of nature poems (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014). Lucky Fish won the gold medal in Poetry for the Independent Publishers Book Awards and was featured in the New York Times and on the PBS NewsHour ArtsBeat. Poems from this collection were also awarded an NEA Fellowship in poetry, the Glenna Luschia Prize from Prairie Schooner, and the Angoff Award from The Literary Review for the best poems appearing that volume year. At the Drive-In Volcano was named winner of the Balcones Prize, which honors an outstanding collection published the previous year. Her first collection of poetry, Miracle Fruit, was selected by Gregory Orr for the Tupelo Press Prize and was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award in poetry, the Global Filipino Literary Award. Other awards for her writing include the Pushcart Prize, a poetry fellowship to the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Boatwright Prize from Shenandoah, and the Richard Hugo Prize from Poetry Northwest.
World of Wonders (Milkweed Press, 2020), Nezhukumatathil’s first nonfiction book, is an illustrated collection of nature essays told in the context of her unusual childhood growing up on the grounds of mental institutions in rural America and navigating the parent-push towards science while finding herself drawn toward language—all unfolding through detailed and delightful observations about the oddities and fascinations of our planet.
Nezhukumatathil serves as the poetry editor for Orion magazine. Her poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Quarterly West, New England Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, and Tin House. Poems and essays have been widely anthologized in such venues as The Best American Poetry series, Billy Collins’ second edition of Random House’s Poetry 180: A Poem a Day and Language for a New Century: Contemporary Asian American Poetry from W.W. Norton. A number of essays and poems have also been published in several high school AP English textbooks and college textbooks.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is also known for her dynamic and joy-filled teaching. Equally at ease in a university or high school classroom, she often serves as a poetry “ambassador,” bringing the delights and joys of reading and writing poetry to classrooms all over the country. She has twice served as a faculty member for the Kundiman Asian American Writers’ Retreat. Her books are widely adopted for high schools, colleges, and universities as part of contemporary poetry, women’s studies, and Asian-American literature classes; and she has been a featured reader at over a hundred venues across the globe from Amsterdam to Singapore.
In 2014, Nezhukumatathil became one of the country’s youngest poets to achieve the rank of full Professor of English. During the 2016-17 academic year, Nezhukumatathil was the John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at The University of Mississippi. She is now professor of English and teaches environmental literature and poetry writing in the MFA program of the University of Mississippi.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of a book of nature essays, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments, which was named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in non-fiction, and four award-winning poetry collections, most recently, Oceanic (2018). Awards for her writing include fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Council, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry, National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her writing has appeared in NYTimes Magazine, ESPN, and Best American Poetry. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.
WORLD OF WONDERS (Essay, 2020)
“World of Wonders walks. It sprints. It leaps. Most importantly, the book lingers in a world where power, people, and the literal outside wrestle painfully, beautifully.” —Kiese Laymon
The author of this essay collection has called many places home: Kansas, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she’s been transplanted, she has always been able to turn to the fierce and funny creatures around her for guidance.
OCEANIC (Poetry, 2018)
“Cultural strands are woven into the DNA of her strange, lush, but oh-so-American poems. Aphorisms . . . from another dimension.” ―New York Times
With inquisitive flair, Aimee Nezhukumatathil creates a thorough registry of the earth’s wonderful and terrible magic. In her fourth collection of poetry, she studies forms of love as diverse and abundant as the ocean itself. She brings to life a father penguin, a C-section scar, and the Niagara Falls with a powerful force of reverence for life and living things. With an encyclopedic range of subjects and unmatched sincerity, Oceanic speaks to each reader as a cooperative part of the earth, an extraordinary neighborhood to which we all belong.
From “Starfish and Coffee”
And that’s how you feel after tumbling
like sea stars on the ocean floor over each other.
A night where it doesn’t matter
which are arms or which are legs
or what radiates and how―
only your centers stuck together.
LUCKY FISH (Poetry, 2011)
Lucky Fish travels along a lush current—a confluence of leaping vocabulary and startling formal variety, with upwelling gratitude at its source: for love, motherhood, “new hope,” and the fluid and rich possibilities of words themselves. With an exuberant appetite for “my morning song, my scurry-step, my dew,” anchored in complicated human situations, this astounding young poet’s third collection of poems is her strongest yet.
AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (Poetry, 2007)
In At the Drive-In Volcano Aimee Nezhukumatathil examines the full circle journey of desire; loss; and, ultimately; an exuberant love—traveling around a world brimming with wild and delicious offerings such as iced waterfalls, jackfruit, and pistol shrimp. From the tropical landscapes of the Caribbean, India, and the Philippines to the deep winters of western New York and mild autumns of Ohio, the natural world Nezhukumatathil describes is dark but also lovely—so full of enchantment and magic. Here, worms glow in the dark, lizards speak, the most delicious soup in the world turns out to be deadly, and a woman eats soil as if it were candy. Her trademark charm, verve, and wit remain elemental and a delight to behold, even in the face of a crumbling relationship. These poems confront delicate subjects of love and loss with an exacting exuberance and elegance not hardly seen in a writer so young.
MIRACLE FRUIT (Poetry, 2003)
As three worlds collide, a mother’s Philippines, a father’s India, and the poet’s contemporary America, the resulting impressions are chronicled in this collection of incisive and penetrating verse. The writer weaves her words carefully into wise and affecting embroidery that celebrates the senses while remaining down-to-earth and genuine.
She’s been warned not to sleep with moonlight
on her face or she will be taken from her house.
She wears eel-skin to protect herself. She tilts
her face to the night sky when no one is looking.
During the eclipse, eels bubble in their dark
and secret caves. Toads frenzy in pastures
just outside of town, surrounding the dumb cows
in a wet mess of croak and sizzle. Years later,
she would touch the hand of a green-eyed man
by the weird light. Because of him, she plants
a moon garden: freesia, snowdrops, fotherfilla,
bugbane. She is a runner-bean, stretching best
and brilliant in this light. Their child is moon-faced.
She is crazy about them. She is lunatic. She
is taken. She is a hymn book flipped open.
—from Lucky Fish
WHEN WEAVER ANTS CUT (A VALENTINE)
I love the dance of every one helping.
Each ant chews and chews a bit of juicy leaf
and stands on his back four legs to raise
the leaf shape up high above his head.
The congo line-a honey shimmer of bodies
rushing to bring the cut leaf home. For twelve
years, the ruler of Garwara, India was a jackal.
All the laughing in that town cannot
compare to what you have brought
into my home: a filament of light inside
a dark jellyfish bell. It’s this dance of ants
down a tree, around a stubborn frog-I want
to dance with you-how brave the line,
how tiny the step, a hundred green valentines.
—from At the Drive-In Volcano
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• Q&A with Aimee Nezhukumatathil – Poets & Writers
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