I feel completely blessed to have been able to have dinner with Vievee Francis and Jericho Brown. You are not granted many opportunities to dine with Pulitzer Prize-winning, Ivy League professor-poets. It is always an honor to enjoy dinner with writers who are not only prestigious, but are willing to share their knowledge with the next generation of writers. But before each dinner, I felt fear and timidity mixed with appreciation.
I was fearful for the obvious reasons: I didn’t want to say anything offensive or come off as arrogant, or ignorant, or all-around oblivious to the greatness sitting beside or diagonal from me. I appreciated their presence, but I was timid because I wasn’t sure if I deserved it. Imposter syndrome is truly something to reckon with. However, after we got more acquainted with one other, I fell into a deep comfort as they changed from idols to mentors and then to confidants. When I had dinner with Jericho, I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. But through the laughs I was able to share with him my fear of diving deeper into my poetry by being vulnerable. His advice was to just keep writing; with time, it will become easier. At first I thought that was a cliché answer, but it’s so true. The more poetry I write, the better I become at being vulnerable in my writing, which has fueled my thesis.
Dinner with Vievee was just as revelatory. Her poetry is so vivid and capturing. Knowing she was self-trained in poetry, I thought her abilities as a writer were innate, as if writing just came to her. But during our conversation, she spoke about her personal life. Through what she shared with me, I came to know that someone who lives a life like hers will have many stories to tell.
In a couple of her poems, she talks about her father and their relationship, which was abusive and often detrimental to her safety. At dinner she talked about her current relationship with him, now much more sustainable than during her childhood years. However, she said her childhood years were also her truth. Although she and her father are in better accord, she still must tell her truth. To cross a writer is to run the danger of ending up in one of their pieces, but Vievee cautioned against writing for revenge. She illustriously illustrated that in her poems “Honey” and “Tin Teeth”, two favorites of mine she read the night she came to Columbia.
A small part of me feels like I missed out on the important waves of Black American writers, like all the writers I would have loved to study alongside are now established and can only offer mentorship to help lift me up. Although mentorship is truly necessary for my growth as a writer, I can’t help but feel an unjustifiable FOMO (fear of missing out) on our nation’s greatest Black writers. I guess in saying that I am not acknowledging the very strong writers who are growing with me; that doesn’t sit right with me either.
Through and through, I appreciate the faculty at Columbia for thinking about me and inviting me to have dinner with both Vievee Francis and Jericho Brown. These two people have been truly pivotal in the growth of my own mindset. I feel so much more empowered to speak my truth. Even if that truth has been told many, many times before, it is still mine. Vievee, in her poetry and in dialogue, is one of the most truthful people I have met, so very down to earth, so honest about who she is and what she stands for. I feel very moved by the time I’ve spent with her. I just hope to one day be able to live up such a legend in my eyes.