Erika Meitner

Award-winning Poet
Essayist & Social Critic
National Jewish Book Award

Readings &
Lecture Topics
  • The Poet As Parent
  • Artistic Creativity & Yiddishkayt
  • Third Generation: Family History & Holocaust Connections
  • Poetry Taboos and You: How and Why to Break the Rules
  • An Evening with Erika Meitner

Biography

“Erika Meitner is the quintessential 21st century storyteller bearing witness from the vantage point of a social critic with heart, humor, and an incomparable voice.” ―Carmen Giménez Smith

“Erika Meitner is known for what’s called ‘documentary poetry,’ which combines some of the journalistic work of the reporter with the subjective renderings of the poet.” —NPR Books

“Erika Meitner…taps into national conversations on topics including motherhood, infertility, terrorism, Judaism, school shootings, the 2016 election, and race. The poems feel straightforward in a way that adds to their urgency. ” —Jewish Book Council

Poet and writer Erika Meitner is the author of five books of poems and winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Born and raised in Queens and Long Island, NY, Meitner is a first-generation American: her father is from Haifa, Israel; her mother was born in a refugee camp in Stuttgart, Germany, which is where her maternal grandparents settled after surviving Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Mauthausen concentration camps. In a conversation with Rachel Zucker in Commonplace, Meitner explains that much of her work arises from a commitment to writing accurately and respectfully about the small town in which she lives, and the challenges of writing as an engaged member of her community while being an othered outsider, a poet, a Jew, and the white mother of a black son.

Her newest collection, Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA, 2018) transports readers into the heart of southern Appalachia—its highways and strip malls, its fragility and danger—as the speaker wrestles with racial tensions, religious identity, gun violence, raising children, and the anxieties of life in the 21st century. With a refusal to settle for easy answers, Meitner’s poems embrace life in an increasingly fractured society, and they never stop asking what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. “In her graceful fifth collection, Meitner displays a sense of urgency informed by parenthood in this strange and particularly turbulent American moment. Hyper-aware of both suburban and rural landscapes, Meitner uncannily describes their features,” praises Publishers Weekly. While poet sam sax says, simply: “Holy Moly Carry Me is a triumph!”

Meitner’s first book, Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore (Anhinga Press, 2003), won the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her second book, Ideal Cities (HarperCollins, 2010), was selected as a winner of the 2009 National Poetry Series competition. Her third collection, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (2011) is “a sexy, funny, smart book full of crack-the-whip language’’, in the words of Beth Ann Fennelly. Meitner’s fourth collection of poems, Copia (2014), was published as part of BOA Editions’ American Poets Continuum Series. In a review of this collection, The Rumpus wrote: “When is it plenty? When is it enough? In Copia, Meitner gathers material from disparate places―big box stores, her grandmother, Yiddish speakers, her life in Blacksburg, VA, travel to Detroit―to consider these questions. The parts that she gathers, the fragments of language, the physical pieces of life, the things left behind, lost, abandoned are greater as a collection than any object individually. Things are more whole together, contained, bound. Meitner assembles plenitude only to ask, is plenty enough? That is the richness, the abundance of Copia.” Her sixth book of poems, Useful Junk, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in April 2022.

Her poetry and prose have been included in the anthologies Best American Poetry (2011), Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (2010), and Best African American Essays (2010), The Way We Work: Contemporary Writings from the American Workplace (2008), and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (2008), as well as many journals, including The New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, Slate, The Kenyon Review, Tin House, The New Republic, Ploughshares, and APR.

Meitner also creates larger-scale documentary photo/text projects on urban environments, including “This is Not a Requiem for Detroit” and “RNC CLE,” both commissioned by and published in Virginia Quarterly Review. She is currently working on a project on Miami and sea-level rise.

Meitner attended Dartmouth College, Hebrew University, and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing as a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and her MA in Religious Studies as a Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies. Meitner was a US-UK Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing and the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She was also the recipient of the 2021 Poetry Society of America’s Cecil Hemley Memorial Award.

In addition to having taught creative writing at UVA, UW-Madison, and UC-Santa Cruz, Meitner has worked as a dating columnist, an office temp, a Hebrew school instructor, a computer programmer, a systems consultant, a lifeguard, a documentary film production assistant, and a middle school teacher in the New York City public school system.

Meitner is currently a Professor of English, and the Director of the MFA program in Creative Writing and the undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Virginia Tech. She lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Short Bio

Erika Meitner is the winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Poetry and author of six books of poems: Useful JunkHoly Moly Carry MeInventory at the All-Night DrugstoreMakeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls; and Ideal Cities, which was a 2009 National Poetry series winner; and Copia. Her poetry and prose have been widely anthologized. Born and raised in Queens and Long Island, NY, Meitner is a first-generation American: her father is from Israel; her mother was born in a refugee camp in Germany, which is where her maternal grandparents settled after surviving the Holocaust. Meitner is currently a professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she directs the MFA and undergraduate programs in Creative Writing.

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