About the author

Jenn's book collage revised (2)

(Jennifer Casas Boese Givhan)

I am a Mexican-American poet who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a small, border community in the Southern California desert. My family has ties to the Laguna Pueblo in West-Central New Mexico. I earned my MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and my Master’s in English LiteratureJenn at her desk at California State University Fullerton, where I was the recipient of the Graduate Equity Fellowship. My honors include a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship, The Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship,  The 2017 Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, The 2015 Lascaux Review Editors’ Choice Poetry Prize, The Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, The DASH Poetry Prize, 2nd Place in Blue Mesa Review’s 2014 Poetry Prize, and my work has been nominated four times for a Pushcart. I have appeared or am forthcoming in Best of the Net 2015, Best New Poets 2013, AGNI, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, POETRY, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, Rattle (2015 Poetry Prize finalist), Prairie Schooner, Columbia Poetry Journal, Indiana Review (runner up for the 2015 Poetry Prize), and Southern Humanities Review (finalist for the 2015 Auburn Witness Prize), among over a hundred other publications.

I write, teach online poetry workshops at The Poetry Barn, work as Poetry Editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and raise two young children with my family in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Here’s an interview with Indiana Review, where I was the 2015 Poetry Prize Runner-Up (I talk about WIC, poetry contests as pig-auctions, Jewel & Destiny’s child, & sticky motherlove).

Here’s my Art Talk with the NEA in which I discuss poetry as x-ray vision & why the arts matter.

Here’s an interview with The Review Review about LANDSCAPE WITH HEADLESS MAMA, compiling a first poetry collection, submission advice, and more. “Write your truths, hone your craft, & don’t give up!”

***My poetry collection Landscape with Headless Mama has won the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize and is forthcoming in 2016!***

About my book, Patricia Smith writes, “Pardon me, but I’m shivering a bit at my core.  These are restless, storm-hued stanzas, revelations of our dark cravings and hapless, woefully imperfect attempts at  perfect love. Here are the dreams even our dreams won’t reveal, flaunting wild edges and endings that nudge the soul, each fusing of  lyric and lesson as potent as a backhand slap. And Mama watches everything. Mama sees it all.”

Rigoberto González says, “What’s living without fear of getting lost?” That’s only one of many empowering moments in Jennifer Givhan’s auspicious debut. Her “blood magic” ink delivers the hard truths that kick-start the healing of the “splintered cactus” that hurdles the path of a woman’s journey. Landscape with Headless Mama blossoms with the “strange alloys of sadness” that devastate motherhood and femininity, and then nurture their wounds back to vibrant life.

Van Jordan says, “In Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape with Headless Mama, the vivid truth of these poems evokes both the wince of pain and the head-rush of joy, the familial and the romantic disconnections we endure and those connections found in the same terrain that we, still, manage to cherish. If there’s a line in these poems that doesn’t surprise, I couldn’t find it; one never knows where the poem will take us. I found myself tracing “maps of the borderland into my body/ cliff dwelling, the taste of red brick on the tongue….” Each figure rendered, each voice conjured comes to life with their distinct journey, and Givhan continues to remind us of yet another truth: “There are other ways for the story to end.” Indeed, the possibilities seem limitless in this world she builds. If a collection of poems can be called a page-turner, this is what it feels like.”

The collection is a surreal survival guide that views motherhood and the speaker’s relationships (with her own mother, children, and partner) through the lens of hereditary mental illness and cultural and familial myths. Its framework is inspired by the artwork of Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo, and Leonora Carrington, three Mexican surrealist women whose work and lives have been incredibly inspiring and buttressing to my sense of myself as an artist. The collection centers on a speaker who is reliving her childhood with a mentally ill mother, and who is struggling with mental illness as she raises her own children–the poems often turn to surrealism, magical realism, art, and myth as the speaker searches for hope, forgiveness, and transcendence. (It has also been a 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist and a 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize finalist).

****My second book Protection Spell has been chosen by Billy Collins (former U.S. Poet Laureate) for inclusion in The Miller Williams Series and will be published in February 2017 with University of Arkansas Press!****

Protection Spell explores racial inequalities in our current social landscape. It asks what it means to be safe and how we can create safe spaces through the traumas of racism, violence, gendered abuse, mental illness, and even ordinary, everyday sadnesses. In the early summer on a balcony in Squaw Valley, I watched the morning light across the pines in the distance and thought about the lives lost in the last year to ingrained racist norms and the shattering of homes when the police come bearing the news to families. A bedrock poem in the collection, “The Glance” (finalist for Rattle’s 2015 Poetry Prize), is based on a very real trauma inside my own biracial home. The collection is a reassembling of that home, a piecing together. In the poem, the speaker’s black husband is accused of a crime he did not commit, and the speaker is forced to shut the blinds to the outside world to protect her family. The truth is that my family shut the blinds, and, for a long while, I shut my heart in self-defense. But it has torn open. This collection is a tearing open. Protection Spell, which acts as witness to social trauma from the many standpoints afforded by a passably white enough brown mother-woman to stand in the divide and speak out.


My current writing project is a novel titled JUBILEE, where “Lars and the Real Girl” and “The Velveteen Rabbit” meet motherhood. It is a darkly surreal tale of trauma, survival, and redemption.

I’m also sending out another new full-length poetry collections to publishers:

Einstein’s Imaginary Daughters re-imagines the life of Lieserl, daughter whom Einstein and his wife Mileva allegedly gave up for adoption at birth—a story that resonates with my own, and which I tell through a Latin@/desert-borderland perspective. Utilizing details from Einstein’s known life and quantum physics, I’ve imagined Lieserl in the desert in a circus-like landscape of childhood trauma and survival guided by my protagonist Rosa and her sister Nieve, Latin@ revisions of the fairytale Rose Red and Snow White. Albert Einstein wrote, “All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.” I’m exploring where art and science intersect, and in that process using poetry to debunk the idea that science is incompatible with myth, that it replaces myth. Carl Sagan wrote “it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring”—yet I have found intersections, borderlands between myth and science. Through my poetry in Einstein’s Imaginary Daughters, I theorize a link between the imagination and reality: we call into being our realities from the realm of the imagination, supported by Platonic ideas of the cave of shadows and the existential idea that we experience the world through our senses and so all external reality is already filtered through our consciousness and sensory perceptions.

JennMy first full-length poetry collection Red Sun Mother, which focuses on themes of infertility, adoption, and motherhood, was nominated a  finalist in the 2012 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Poetry Prize and the  2011 St. Lawrence Book Award Contest through Black Lawrence Press.





The book examines cultural constructions of and attitudes toward the “barren” woman as she emerges in Mexican and Mexican-American literature. Moreover, it re-evaluates/revises the symbolic mythology surrounding the childless or “infertile” woman by juxtaposing her with differing cultural models of Mexican motherhood in order to include her story with the other madres mujeres of literature.

My husband Andrew and I adopted our beautiful baby son in 2007, and I gave birth to our strong, healthy daughter in August 2010.

grampy glassesHere’s an interview and four poems up at Connotation Press.

Here, my amiga, writer Dini Karasik, interviews me for Origins Literary Journal:

Interview with Jennifer Givhan on Writing

And here’s another: Interview with Poet Jennifer Givhan at the Fertile Source

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. James Washington, Jr.
    Mar 09, 2016 @ 16:05:36

    Hi Jennifer,
    I’m in and around poetry much of the time but still manage to miss some powerful voices until they turn up, as today, on a daily e-poetry distribution. I just read “The Glance” compliments of Rattle. As a friend says about food: “This tastes like more!” And so I set off in search of more and found your “an editor advised me to stop writing mother bird poems.” When I get back up from the floor, I’ll continue the trail to “more.” So nicely done! I’m better for the introduction to your work.



    • jgivhan
      Mar 09, 2016 @ 16:07:56

      Jim, thank you so much for this kind & generous note. It means everything to me that my work is out there & resonating with readers. My heart is full.
      All the poetry love,


  2. Nancy L Meyer
    Mar 09, 2016 @ 20:19:07

    I too astound myself with The Glance and then reading more of your work on Connotation and the interviews and now off to order your books. I wondered that you did not mention Clarissa Pinkola Estes as a border voice to read, not a poet per se but her sensibilities match yours and she speaks so powerfully to us as women.
    As a white woman married for many years to a Jamaican man, with our son, I struggle to get that experience of racial intersection on the page. Brava for The Glance. I cannot wait to spend more time with your wonderful work.


  3. david ethan levit
    Sep 12, 2016 @ 20:28:46

    “the Cheerleaders” – I was very skeptical when I began reading. And as I crept further into the poem I didn’t become less so, at first. But then I felt something begin to seep in and I realized I was being drawn, led into something beautiful and painful and awful. Yes, over the course of the poem you changed my mind, and I realize, maybe you changed both our minds. wonderful discovery!


    • jgivhan
      Sep 12, 2016 @ 20:32:55

      Thank you for this honest feedback, David. That you were drawn into what is both beautiful and painful in my poem, and in my experience, into a new discovery–that truly fills my heart. Wishing you all the poetry love and light.
      All the best,


  4. baronshahe
    Jan 02, 2018 @ 19:12:25

    Hello Jennifer, I love your work. I just read your work in Poetry, “I am dark, I am forest. I curious about the origin of your last name Givhan. Does it have any middle eastern roots?


    • jgivhan
      Jan 02, 2018 @ 19:52:44

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my work & new poem in POETRY! I appreciate your support! I’m not sure where my last name comes from. It’s my husband’s family, and as far as we know it’s Creole/French. Thanks for your note.
      All the poetry love,


  5. Trackback: Jennifer Givhan’s “I am dark, I am forest” – The Contemporary Poem

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