Jericho Brown
Atlanta, GA
2020 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Jericho Brown grew up in Shreveport, LA. On both sides of Brown’s family, he’s the grandson of sharecroppers who fled rural parts of the South in fear of white terror. He grew up landscaping for his father’s “yard business” and spent the winter months at the Morningside Branch public library where he fell in love with poetry. He now believes the work he did in the heat prepared him for the work he’d have to do as a reader, understanding labor as a property of beauty.

He attended the HBCU Dillard University for his BA in English before becoming the speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans. He wanted to be surprised by what he wrote, so he turned to poetry, getting an MFA from the University of New Orleans. In order to fully immerse himself, he left New Orleans for the University of Houston where got a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing and finished his first book, Please, which went on to win the American Book Award. Today, he is an associate professor at Emory University, the recipient of a Whiting Award, and of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

His second book, The New Testament, won the Anisfield-Wolf Award. His third collection is The Tradition (Copper Canyon, 2019). Brown’s poems have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry anthologies.

Portrait photo by Angel Nafis.


Bullet Points, 2019

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home.  Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in.  When I kill me, I will
Do it the same way most Americans do,
I promise you:  cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst.  I promise if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me.  He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can pay
A mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the new bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain.