Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Acclaimed Writer
Long-listed for the Nat'l Book Award

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Honorée Jeffers


“A Black woman in America, hyper-acutely mindful of her race and gender, has much of interest to share, and when the medium of sharing is skillful poetry, walls come tumbling down.”―Foreword Reviews

“Honorée Jeffers leads with her ear and follows with her rigorous intellect, then adds an emotional depth and fearlessness that make her poems uniquely powerful.”―Elizabeth Alexander

“Thoughtful, inventive, and wise.”―Booklist

For over twenty years, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has been lifting her voice on issues of Black culture, racism, American history, and gender through the medium of writing. Her most recent collection, The Age of Phillis (Wesleyan, 2020), which was long-listed for the National Book Award in Poetry, nominated for the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Poetry, imagines the life and times of poet Phillis Wheatley Peters and the era surrounding her, one that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. She is also the author of four other critically acclaimed books of poetry, including: The Gospel of Barbecue (Kent State, 2000); Outlandish Blues (Wesleyan, 2003); Red Clay Suite (Southern Illinois, 2007); and The Glory Gets (Wesleyan, 2015), about which Kwame Dawes says, “Her poems—about lynching, lost love, racism, the challenges of being a Black woman are intelligent and sophisticated examinations of very complex issues. The collection is a wonderful wisdom book that is openly vulnerable, uncertain, and yet full of remarkable grace.”

Jeffers is also a prose writer and author of the forthcoming novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper Collins, 2021). A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois follows its protagonist, Ailey, on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so, Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself. A Kirkus Reviews’ starred review of the novel lauded, “If this isn’t the Great American Novel, it’s a mighty attempt at achieving one.”

Her essays and fiction stories have appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, Callaloo, Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, Indiana Review, New England Review, StoryQuarterly, and Virginia Quarterly Review. And her poetry can be found in the American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. Jeffers’ writing has been anthologized in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks on Race and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She is the recipient of fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress, the Tennessee Williams’ Scholarship in Fiction from the Sewanee Writers Conference, and in 2021, Jeffers was granted a United States Artist Fellowship. She was also the winner of the Emerging Fiction Fellowship from the Aspen Summer Words Conference and recently was honored with the 2018 Harper Lee Award for Literary Distinction, a lifetime achievement award.

A native southerner, Jeffers has lived on the prairie since 2002, where she is a Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ Website


For over twenty years, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has been lifting her voice on issues of Black culture, racism, American history, and gender through the medium of writing. Her most recent collection, The Age of Phillis (2020) was long-listed for the National Book Award in Poetry and nominated for the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. She is also the author of The Gospel of Barbecue (2000); Outlandish Blues (2003); Red Clay Suite (2007); and The Glory Gets (2015). Jeffers is also a prose writer and author of the forthcoming novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (2021). She is the recipient of fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress, and the Tennessee Williams’ Scholarship in Fiction from the Sewanee Writers Conference. She was also the winner of the Emerging Fiction Fellowship from the Aspen Summer Words Conference and recently was honored with the 2018 Harper Lee Award for Literary Distinction, a lifetime achievement award. She is a Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma.


THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DU BOIS (Fiction, 2021)
The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders. Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself.

THE AGE OF PHILLIS (Poetry, 2020)
n 1773, a young, African American woman named Phillis Wheatley Peters published a book of poetry that challenged Western prejudices about African and female intellectual capabilities. Based on fifteen years of archival research, The Age of Phillis, by award-winning writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, imagines the life and times of Wheatley: her childhood in the Gambia, West Africa, her life with her white American owners, her friendship with Obour Tanner, and her marriage to the enigmatic John Peters. Woven throughout are poems about Wheatley’s “age”―the era that encompassed political, philosophical, and religious upheaval, as well as the transatlantic slave trade. For the first time in verse, Wheatley’s relationship to black people and their individual “mercies” is foregrounded, and here we see her as not simply a racial or literary symbol, but a human being who lived and loved while making her indelible mark on history.

THE GLORY GETS (Poetry, 2015)
In her three previous, award-winning collections of blues poetry, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has explored themes of African American history, Southern culture, and intergenerational trauma. Now, in her fourth and most accomplished collection, Jeffers turns to the task of seeking and reconciling the blues and its three movements―identification, exploration, and resolution―with wisdom. Poems in The Glory Gets ask, “What happens on the road to wisdom? What now in this bewildering place?” Using the metaphor of “gets”―the concessional returns of living―Jeffers travels this fraught yet exhilarating journey, employing unexpected improvisations while navigating womanhood. The spirit and spirituality of her muse, the late poet Lucille Clifton, guide the poet through the treacherous territories other women have encountered and survived yet kept secret from their daughters. An online reader’s companion will be available.

RED CLAY SUITE (Poetry, 2007)
n her third book of poems, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers expresses her familiarity with the actual and imaginary spaces that the American South occupies in our cultural lexicon. Her two earlier books of poetry, The Gospel of Barbecue and Outlandish Blues, use the blues poetic to explore notions of history and trauma. Now, in Red Clay Suite, Jeffers approaches the southern landscape as utopia and dystopia—a crossroads of race, gender, and blood. These poems signal the ending movement of her crossroads blues and complete the last four “bars” of a blues song, resting on the final, and essential, note of resolution and reconciliation.

OUTLANDISH BLUES (Poetry, 2003)
Fierce and sensual, the poems in Outlandish Blues merge everyday speech with a shimmering lyricism and burst from the page into song. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers sees the blues, what she terms the “shared ‘blue notes,”’ as an important intersection between the secular and the divine, and between the various African American vernacular traditions, from spirituals to jazz. Part Nina Simone, part Bessie Smith, her poems are filled with a sweaty honesty, moving from the personal to the collective experience. This movement is often accomplished through the use of personae, concentrated here in a stunning series of poems on the Biblical figures of Hagar and Sarah. Whether about a contemporary domestic scene, a slave ship, or Aretha Franklin, these are poems that speak to the soul of experience.

THE GOSPEL OF BARBECUE (Poetry, 2000)
“Honorée Jeffers is an exciting and original new poet, and the Gospel of Barbecue is her aptly titled debut work. These poems are sweet and sassy, hot and biting, flavored in an exciting blend of precise language and sharp and surprising imagery that delights. They leave a taste in your mouth, these poems; they are true to themselves and to the world. They are gospel, indeed, and this young poet will be heard more and more spreading the true word. Good news!”—Lucille Cliffton


Read “Note to Black Women in America” – NY Times

Read “Blues: Odysseus” – LitHub

Read “Inspecting a Region of Converging Territory” – Kenyon Review

Read “Go Back and Fetch It” – The Poetry Foundation

Read “Dreams of My Father” – The Poetry Foundation

THE GOSPEL OF BARBECUE

for Alvester James

Long after it was
necessary, Uncle
Vess ate the leavings
off the hog, doused
them with vinegar sauce.
He ate chewy abominations.
Then came high pressure.
Then came the little pills.
Then came the doctor
who stole Vess’s second
sight, the predication
of pig’s blood every
fourth Sunday.
Then came the stillness
of barn earth, no more
trembling at his step.
Then came the end
of the rib, but before
his eyes clouded,
Uncle Vess wrote
down the gospel
of barbecue.

Chapter one:
Somebody got to die
with something at some
time or another.

Chapter two:
Don’t ever trust
white folk to cook
your meat until
it’s done to the bone.

Chapter three:
December is the best
time for hog killing.
The meat won’t
spoil as quick.
Screams and blood
freeze over before
they hit the air.

Chapter four, Verse one:
Great Grandma Mandy
used to say food
you was whipped
for tasted the best.

Chapter four, Verse two:
Old Master knew to lock
the ham bacon chops
away quick or the slaves
would rob him blind.
He knew a padlock
to the smokehouse
was best to prevent
stealing, but even the
sorriest of slaves would
risk a beating for a full
belly. So Christmas time
he give his nasty
leftovers to the well
behaved. The head ears
snout tail fatback
chitlins feet ribs balls.
He thought gratitude
made a good seasoning.

Chapter five:
Unclean means dirty
means filthy means
underwear worn too
long in summertime heat.
Perfectly good food
can’t be no sin.
Maybe the little
bit of meat on ribs
makes for lean eating.
Maybe the pink flesh
is tasteless until you add
onions garlic black
pepper tomatoes
soured apple cider
but survival ain’t never been
no crime against nature
or Maker. See, stay alive
in the meantime, laugh
a little harder. Go on
and gnaw that bone clean.