Jennifer Casas Givhan
I am a Mexican-American and Indigenous poet and novelist (author of Trinity Sight, Jubilee, and River Woman, River Demon), who grew up in the Imperial Valley, a small, border community in the Southern California desert. My family has ancestral ties to the indigenous peoples of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico including Ysleta del Sur and the Tigua Indian peoples of the Ysleta region of El Paso.
I earned my Master’s degree in Fine Arts in Poetry from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and my Master’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing 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 Latinx Scholarship, a 2020 Southwest Book Award, an Honorable Mention for 2021 The Rudolfo Anaya Best Latino Focused Fiction Book Award category from the International Latino Book Awards Foundation, The 2019 New Ohio Review Poetry Prize chosen by Tyehimba Jess, Cutthroat Journal’s 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize chosen by Patricia Spears Jones, The 2017 Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, The 2015 Lascaux Review Editors’ Choice Poetry Prize, and The Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón.
My poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, AGNI, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, POETRY, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Salon, The Rumpus, and Prairie Schooner, among many others.
Here’s my poem “I Am Dark / I Am Forest” in POETRY.
My work tends toward magical realism and dark psychological motherhood that reflects back on an often darker sociopolitical landscape, but the shadow work exists to reveal the light, and that’s always my goal–to shine that hopeful light amidst the darkness.
Among my influences are Toni Morison and Ana Castillo, and some of my recent faves are Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling.
I write, mentor and empower writers, and raise my two children in Albuquerque, New Mexico (the Land of Enchantment) and often channel the magickal desert in my writing. *Note that I’m currently living in San Diego with my family (near the border and Imperial Valley where I grew up) as I research and write my next novel.
And support the heartwork I’m doing in the writing community & on the page by joining my Patreon!
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).
Check out my Art Talk with the NEA in which I discuss poetry as x-ray vision & why the arts matter.
And an interview with Glint Journal about LANDSCAPE WITH HEADLESS MAMA and GIRL WITH DEATH MASK, compiling poetry collections, magical realism and surrealism, submission advice, and more. “Write your truths, hone your craft, & don’t give up!”
As a Latina and Indigenous writer from a small desert community on the California/Mexico border, one major goal for my writing is to try to speak the multivalent voices of the women I grew up with—the mothers, daughters, childless women, aunties, and nanas who have become the voices of my writing. My poetry is concerned with the complex relationships many of us Latina/Indigenous women have with family; it is both a liberating and subjugating force, can be both buttressing and repressive. It is both mythical and real. I write about the violence against women and mothers on the border, but also about the resilience and strength we women and mothers evince every day of our lives.
Audre Lorde writes, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Every moment of writing, for me, is trying to find a new language, a new story, a new way of flashing the blood, standing up and proclaiming what has been done to me (and my family, my people, those girls and women who have been violated and brutalized) and yet to sing strength, resilience, and renewal. Philosopher Julia Kristeva posits a semiotic chora that is prelinguistic, on the edge of language and verbalization, and has the capacity to rise out of culturally constructed space. She aligns it with a mother’s womb. And I think of this chora space as the landscape of my own writing and the #metoo stories I recount. Yes, we must tell our truths. But our truths are not limited by the violence. They did not begin in violence, and they will not end there. Violence may have been etched into our stories, but they do not define them or us.
And this is what I hope to convey. The horror and dystopia are only one depiction of what we’ve undergone, our forebears, perhaps ourselves. But every poem or novel I write is meant as a guidebook for my daughter—a survival manual for how to stay the hell away from the dark forests I’ve traversed. And how, if the darkness does surround her, to fight back.
I’m writing forward, speaking the past, healing the present, and paving a way for my daughter and all the girls, women, femmes, and marginalized folks who need these survival stories.
Knowledge is power. My mother couldn’t show me how to escape, but she told me what to watch for. And though her #metoo story still became mine, I have every hope that writing the horror outside of the structures that have sustained it—writing on our own terms, changing the rules—our #metoo stories will not become our daughters’ stories.
Jennifer Givhan is a Mexican-American and Indigenous poet and novelist from the Southwestern desert and the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices.
She holds a Master’s degree from California State University Fullerton and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Rosa’s Einstein (University of Arizona Press), and the novels Trinity Sight and Jubilee (Blackstone Publishing), which were finalists for the Arizona-New Mexico Book Awards and won The Southwest Book Award. Her newest poetry collection Belly to the Brutal (Wesleyan University Press) and novel River Woman, River Demon (Blackstone Publishing) both draw from her practice of brujería. Her latest novel was chosen for Amazon’s Book Club and as a National Together We Read Library Pick and was featured on CBS Mornings. It also won an International Latino Book Award in the Rudolfo Anaya Latino-Focused Fiction category.
Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, POETRY, TriQuarterly, The Boston Review, The Rumpus, Salon, Ploughshares, and many others. She’s received the Southwest Book Award, New Ohio Review’s Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, the Pinch Journal Poetry Prize, and Cutthroat’s Joy Harjo Poetry Prize.
Givhan has taught at the University of Washington Bothell’s MFA program as well as Western New Mexico University and has guest lectured at universities across the country. She is currently the Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at The University of New Mexico.
She would love to hear from you at jennifergivhan.com and you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for inspiration, prompts, and real talk about the publishing world and life as a mama writer.