Tyehimba Jess is the author of two powerful, musically-inspired books of poetry: leadbelly, about the musician of the same name, and last year’s Olio, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize.
leadbelly, which explores the life and times of the legendary blues musician through a biography in poems, was named one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005” by both Library Journaland Black Issues Book Review, and Publishers Weekly noted that “the collection’s strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one’s talent.”
Olio, published by Wave Books last year, presents the stories behind America’s blues, worksongs, and church hymns. The collection weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War, up to World War I, and is an effort to understand how these performers met, resisted, and complicated attempts to minstrelize them.
A two-time member of the Chicago Green Mill Slam team, Jess was also Chicago’s Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana. His work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including Soulfires: Young Black Men in Love and Violence, Slam: The Competitive Art ofPerformance Poetry, and Dark Matter 2: Reading the Bones. He is the author of AfricanAmerican Pride: Celebrating Our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy.
In addition to his Pulitzer Prize and National Poetry Series award, Jess’s accomplishments include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award. A former artist-in-residence with Cave Canem, Jess has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, as well as a Lannan Writing Residency.
Born in Detroit, Jess earned a BA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from New York University. He has taught at the Juilliard School, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and at the College of Staten Island in New York City. As of 2017, he teaches poetry and fiction at CUNY College of Staten Island and is the faculty adviser for Caesura, the University’s literary arts magazine.