Joining the 101st class of Pulitzer Prize winners is Tyehimba Jess with his book, Olio. In two books, Jess, a writer from Detroit, has married poetry with history and music, giving voice to the formative names in Blues and folk music. His work is expansive and formal, slangy and genre-bending, the sort of poetry you can share with poetry and non-poetry readers alike. Now that you've ordered your copy of Olio (you've done that, right?), you'll want to nerd out on the best of Jess.
Fortunately, Jess — who was honored with a Whiting Award and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts prior to winning the Pulitzer — is as fascinating an interviewee as he is a poet. You might start by reading this interview in Lit Hub. Jess talks with Adam Fitzgerald about the process of writing Olio, as well as the work of shaking — and building — a voice. Jess reveals the way he wove history into the construction of Olio:
Using primary documents really helps tell a story in a better way than I could imagine. So I tend to comb through these records and historical documents and start to see a side of the history that needs to have an alternating voice, a callback. As one would say, a “clapback.”
This "clapback" of history is what part of what makes Jess's work so instantly classic. In formally nuanced runs and series (syncopated sonnets, anyone), Jess invites readers to develop a greater understanding of what has shaped our contemporary context. These 7 poems show the poet at his finest.