Author Q & A with Sequoia Maner

This week’s Author Q&A is with Sequoia Maner. Sequoia is an Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College and her deeply moving and heartfelt poem “dear sister” was selected as the runner-up for this year’s Honeybee Prize in Poetry by guest judge Kwame Dawes. The poem was inspired by meeting a sister she had been separated from for 35 years. Read on to learn what she shared about her writing and one of the best answers we’ve had to the meaning of “The Good Life”…

Author Q & A with Sequoia Maner

September 1, 2022

This week’s Author Q&A is with Sequoia Maner. Sequoia is an Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College and her deeply moving and heartfelt poem “dear sister” was selected as the runner-up for this year’s Honeybee Prize in Poetry by guest judge Kwame Dawes. He had this to say about it –

“A touching poem in which one sister speaks to the other, celebrating their resilience and survival despite the ruptures of being fostered, being cared for by the state, and facing the challenges of neglect. The poem ends with the allusion to Atalanta, the goddess The fact that the spelling in the poem is the same as the spelling of Atlanta, the city, does provide a marker, like the dialect at the core of the poem, drawing us to the African American and Southern experience.” 

We’re delighted that Sequoia took the time to answer some questions about her poem and her writing life and grateful she was open and vulnerable with us in her responses. First, we asked for some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of her poem and she elected to share something about all three. 

Origin: In March of this year, I met my sister for the first time. We were separated from our mother and hidden-away from each other in foster care. After 35 years apart, we have come together as grown-ass women and as poets. It’s wild. This is my first writing about the experience.

Drafting: I revised “dear sister” during my time as a Hurston/Wright fellow in July of 2022, I thank my amazing cohort & workshop leader for holding my tender poems about the child welfare system with compassion.

Final: This poem is my heart. I’m honored to be selected by Kwame Dawes for the runner-up prize, truly. 

What a heartbreaking and incredible thing to experience and to write about. Putting yourself on the page in that way no doubt leads to a great deal of introspection and discovery. We then asked what she learned about herself, craft, or life in general through writing and revising the poem.

Her response: “I learned that I’m always gonna be a sad-girl poet, no matter the subject, and that’s alright. Grief is an elemental part of the human experience & an elemental part of me.” 

We asked Sequoia to share the part of the artistic process that is the most satisfying for her and also what fuels her desire to write. 

Her response: “Sounding out a poem, either alone or in front of an audience, and moving energy. A good poem shifts the air and courses through the body. I love that act of transformation.

“Poetry erupts from me, flows through me, becomes impatient then petulant if I turn away for too long. There is no other option. Even the most difficult writing gives me a deep sense of pleasure and belonging because, during the process, I know that I am fulfilling my purpose.”

We then asked what her biggest fear is as a writer and she gave us two answers: 

  1. Dying before I’ve said everything; dying before I’ve read everything. 
  2. Making some kind of horrifying mistake in a published piece & having (black) writers whom I admire turn away from me, leaving me in lonely obscurity for the remainder of my career. Haha! This second fear is irrational, I think. 

We asked if she has any recent or upcoming projects she’d like to share. 

Her response: “Yes, I have two recent publications: Little Girl Blue: Poems (winner of 2021 Host Publications Chapbook prize) and a study of Kendrick’s Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (33 1/3 series, Bloomsbury). 

More projects are coming: a bibliographic review of the poetry of Jayne Cortez; an essay on the funk impulse of rap music; a memoir.”

That’s quite a lot going on and kudos for getting so much wonderful work out into the world! This leads us to ask what her biggest influences are and what she enjoys reading. 

Her response: “It seems I always return to Langston Hughes. The novels of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin are well-worn in my house. For laughter, I read Chester Himes & The Boondocks comic strips. For solemnity, I read Etheridge Knight, Robert Hayden & Georgia Douglas Johnson. For inspiration, I read Evie Shockley. Douglas Kearney, & Lucille Clifton. For theorizing, I read bell hooks, Christina Sharpe, Kevin Quashie, & Robin DG Kelly. My favorite audiobook is Mariah Carey’s memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. I really want to spend long, uninterrupted time with the poetry of Sherley Anne Williams.

And finally, as it is will all our artists, we asked what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life” and her response seems to be a poem, in and of itself…

“clean air
clean water
sound mind
dreamy sex
dreamy sleep
lush crops
clear sky
stormy sky
no racists
no rapists
no capitalists
no prisons
no police pigs
no slave wages
no war
no war
no travel restrictions
no abortion bans
no capitol insurrections
no hands-up-don’t-shoot shooting deaths
no CPS-gonna-take-your-babies kinda deaths
no blue-ooze*-wipe-your-home-away type of deaths
but all the blues

*Shout out Jayne Cortez, I am thinking of her poem “I Got the Blue-Ooze 93”

Sounding this out causes quite a bit of movement.. Love it!!
Thanks again, Sequoia! We’re honored you trusted us with your words and glad you’ve been able to create something from the experience of being reunited with your sister. We wish you the best in life and all your writing endeavors. 

~The Good Life Review Team