About the author

Jenn's book collage revised (2)

Jennifer Casas Boese Givhan (she/her/ella/la bruja)

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 2019 New Ohio Review Poetry Prize chosen by Tyehimba Jess, Cutthroat Journal’s 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize 2nd place chosen by Patricia Spears Jones, 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 a dozen times for a Pushcart. I have appeared or am forthcoming in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, AGNI, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, POETRY, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Salon, The Rumpus, The New Republic, The Nation, 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.

You can catch me talking all things feminist motherhood & curanderisma on Facebook & Twitter (Jenn Givhan), & on Insta (jenngivhan1111). Please feel free to follow & friend me, & you can look forward to streams of creative inspiration & light in the publishing world, in the borderlands, & in the strange magical places of mamahood, along with calls for representation & equitable treatment of women, the LGBTQ community, & peoples of color. ❤ Join me in the resistance.

I write, teach online poetry workshops at The Poetry Barn, work as Editor for Tinderbox Editions, 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!”

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Trinity Sight cover

The poeta becomes a novelist!

****My debut novel Trinity Sight (Blackstone Publishing, October 2019) reimagines the apocalypse from a Latinx/indigenous perspective in the Southwestern desert of New Mexico, weaving the atomic history of Los Alamos with the Puebloan stories of my family’s people.****

 

The Kirkus Review calls Trinity Sight:

“A testament to the strength of women and girls with a side of philosophy, myth, and metaphysics.”

It is a Fall 2019 Publisher’s Weekly editors’ pick in SF, Fantasy, and Horror.

Booklist has given it a starred review and writes:

“Lyrical writing and exceptional plotting make this own voices novel highly recommended for all libraries.” –Lynnanne Pearson

My publishing team at Blackstone have nominated Trinity Sight for The National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, and many others.

Brando Skyhorse writes:

”A rocket-fueled, indigenous-culture inspired Mad Max–what a ride! Jennifer Givhan drives us through a hellish vision of our country s future by way of our ancestors past. Fierce, wrenching, and written with a poet s eye for transformation and grace, inside this page-turner are the lessons the land may soon teach us. We ignore this ‘fiction’ at our peril.”

Stay tuned for its release on Oct. 1st, 2019! You can pre-order the novel from IndieBound Books, Amazon, and many other major booksellers.

Here I am signing books at BookExpo & BookCon at Javits Center in NYC!

book expo

And look at this line! I’m a #gratefulpoeta

You can also sneak a peak of my partner & two kiddos at the Blackstone table, waiting for Mama to finish signing. This writing biz is a familia affair! ❤

 

 ***

Other magic & miracles as I send my booklight into the Universe:

***My first poetry collection Landscape with Headless Mama won the 2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize and was published by LSU Press***

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 full-length poetry collection Protection Spell was chosen by Billy Collins (former U.S. Poet Laureate) for inclusion in The Miller Williams Series and was published in 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 third collection Girl with Death Mask was chosen by Ross Gay as the winner of the 2017 Blue Lights Book Prize and published by Indiana Review/University of Indiana Press.****

About the collection, Gay writes:

“How many times I found myself looking into space, sort of shaken, sort of grasping, turning and turning inside a line or phrase, inside an image or metaphor, inside some devastating music while reading these poems, I do not know. But again and again. Put it like that.  These poems beautifully, convincingly do what I hope poems might–they disrupt what I know, or what I thought I knew. And in that way they invent for me a world. A world haunted and brutal, yes. But one mended, too, by the love and tenderness and vision and magic by which these poems are made. Again and again I found myself looking into space, sort of shaken, sort of grasping, turning and turning inside a line or phrase, inside an image or metaphor, inside some devastating music.”

Diane Seuss writes,

“In the image-rich, circuitous journey of Girl with Death Mask, the girl both defies and weds death and its accomplice, sex, defies and weds collective mythologies. She flies and she falls, floats and drowns. . . In this raw, kinetic masterpiece of survival Givhan assures us, ‘even through death masks,’ Givhan assures us, ‘we can kiss.’”

Ada Limón says,

“Magic, alchemy, transmogrification, and the body’s deep obsessions fill these lyrically charged poems with an unearthed power. Givhan is a poet who knows the bones of her own world so well that she can rearrange them into anything she wishes. Both surreal and rooted in truth, the complex and gorgeous poems in Girl with Death Mask continue to shake, stun, and weave their spells long after the book is closed.”

****My fourth full-length collection was published by University of Arizona Press, as part of their Camino del Sol poetry series for Latinx poets, where I have joined my mentors such as Rigoberto González. I couldn’t be more thrilled and honored.****

Rosa’s Einstein 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 Rosa’s Einstein, 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.

Maggie Smith writes,

Rosa’s Einstein is lush, lurid with color, ‘flowerfisted,’ feminist, and bomb-blast bright. ‘[B]raiding history with myth / like ribbons through plaits,’ Jennifer Givhan turns her keen eyes to time—the science and magic of it—and invents something wholly (and holy) original. This book is seared into my brain.”

Carrie Fountain says,

“Highly inventive, super obsessive, and beautifully written, this book of poems is a sleek animal you will find yourself panting behind, chasing Jennifer Givhan as she reclaims history, teaches Albert Einstein to dance cumbia, and makes a ghost sister, Nieve, from the fallout of the Trinity explosion.”

Here are interviews that articulate my poetics in the borderland, & I talk the need for Latinx fairy tale in the U.S., quantum entanglement & spooky action at a distance, & form as sifting colander:

Rosa’s Einstein interview in Petrichor Magazine

University of Arizona Press interview about Rosa’s Einstein

And finally, here is video from Bookworks on Rio Grande in which I read from the collection and discuss its background, inspiration, and major threads. I hope you enjoy! All the desert poetry magic, physics, and love!

 

***

Coming in 2020 and beyond:

My next novel forthcoming from Blackstone Publishing is 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.

My fifth poetry collection I Am Dark / I Am Forest is currently represented by my agent at Curtis Brown & is a finalist in a national poetry competition. More info tba.

My current writing project is a thriller that centers the protection magick of peoples of color on the Rio Grande. Weary of seeing mostly wealthy, white women in urban areas as the protagonists of Gone Girl-esque mysteries, I created a thriller surrounding a Latina curandera mama of two who practices brujería as a means to unravel the threads linking her Black husband to a murder she worries she may have committed herself.

***

And a look back to where it all began:

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 glasses

Here’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

 

Thank y’all for visiting me here. Sending you all the poetry love & light!

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.

    –Jim

    Reply

    • 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,
      Jenn

      Reply

  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.

    Reply

  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!

    Reply

    • 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,
      Jenn

      Reply

  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?

    Reply

    • 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,
      Jenn

      Reply

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

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