Sou’wester recently accepted one of my November Poem-A-Day poems for it’s upcoming issue featuring women writers. As part of the issue, they have asked all contributors to list “Her Half Dozen”, the six women writers who have influenced their writing the most. After sleeping on it (and being awakened at 3 AM with the list fully formed), I decided to share the women writers who have influenced my writing the most:
Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950): The Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first book of poetry I ever owned. It was a gift from someone I was trying to get to know and who was trying to get to know me. Her poem, “The Interim,” about the death of her husband, inspired me to write my first poem as a way of voicing the grief and loss I had suffered in 2003.
Agatha Christie (September 15, 1890 – January 12 1976): The British crime writer is the only prose writer on my list. Agatha Christie inspired my love for reading. Growing up, I devoured every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on, and started reading other British female mystery writers like P.D. James and Martha Grimes after learning their writing was influenced by Christie. Her stories piqued my interest human behavior because I wanted to understand what drives a perfectly normal person to kill another.
Rita Dove (August 28, 1952): Her laurels speak for themselves: appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993–1995; became the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987; served as Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004–2006; and edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, published in 2011. And she’s an avid ballroom dancer! Needless to say, Dove is my poetry role model.
Kay Ryan (September 21, 1945): Ryan was appointed the 16th U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008. After reading her collection, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, I stopped feeling bad about myself for writing short poems. I love how Ryan can bend a sentence to her poetic will.
Nikky Finney (born Lynn Carol Finney on August 26, 1957): Nikky Finney was one of those poets I had heard about but had never read—even after she won the 2011 National Book Award for her collection, Head Off & Split. Last June at the Cave Canem retreat, I had the fortune of not only meeting her, hearing her read, and seeing her interview Nikki Giovanni, one of the women who influenced her as a writer, but also learning from her how to weave the personal, local, and historical together in a poem.
Leslie Ullman (April 28, 1947): Leslie was my creative thesis advisor for my last semester at VCFA. After working with men for the first three semesters, I felt I needed a woman’s touch to help me give birth to the collection of poems for my thesis (Fun Fact: Leslie wrote a poem titled, “Midwife”). When I was completely stressed out trying to finish the thesis and juggle work responsibilities, Leslie advised me to stop doing what was stressing me out—even if that meant I had to stop writing, which it did. Her calm and grace were exactly what I needed in a moment of panic.
Who are the women writers who influence and inspire your work?