Rebecca Gayle

Rebecca Gayle Howell
Lexington, KY
2019 USA Fellow

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

Rebecca Gayle Howell’s most recent book is American Purgatory, selected by Don Share for Great Britain’s 2016 Sexton Prize and named a must-read collection by Poetry London, The Millions, and the Courier-Journal. She is also the author of Render / An Apocalypse, which received wide critical acclaim, most notably by David L. Ulin for the Los Angeles Times who called it “remarkable.” Howell debuted as the translator of Amal al-Jubouri’s Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation, which was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award and selected by Library Journal as a best book of 2011. Among her other honors are fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Carson McCullers Center, as well as a Pushcart Prize. Howell is the Poetry Editor for the Oxford American and serves as James Still Writer-in-Residence at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky.

Portrait photo by Matt White.


My Mother Told Us Not To Have Children, 2013

She’d say, Never have a child you don’t want.
Then she’d say, Of course, I wanted you

once you were here. She’s not cruel. Just practical.
Like a kitchen knife. Still, the blade. And care.

When she washed my hair, it hurt; her nails
rooting my thick curls, the water rushing hard.

It felt like drowning, her tenderness.
As a girl, she’d been last

of ten to take a bath, which meant she sat
in dirty water alone; her mother in the yard

bloodletting a chicken; her brothers and sisters
crickets eating the back forty, gone.

Is gentleness a resource of the privileged?

In this respect, my people were poor.
We fought to eat and fought each other because

we were tired from fighting. We had no time
to share. Instead our estate was honesty,

which is not tenderness. In that it is
a kind of drowning. But also a kind of air.