***Editor’s Note: These are excerpts from an interview New Voices staff writer Thomas Nash conducted with poet Jonathan Moody, who performed on campus Feb. 23.***
New Voices: You were a student at XU in the early 2000s. What was campus life like then?
Jonathan Moody: Campus life at XU in the early 2000s was pretty decent. I lived in a suite at the Living Learning Center (LLC): the living conditions were better than they were when the LLC first opened in ’98. The land lines were fully operational, and the hot water knob would release hot water.
As far as The Yard, there was always something happening: whether it was a step show, a Spoken Word event, or students spitting flows off the top of their dome.The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well: you’d see women outside chilling on a bench and braiding their clients’ hair, a guy by the name of Lee Tanner sold dope shirts named after his company: Shapes. Ormond White, a fabulous painter who would later be commissioned to produce artwork for XU and for my first book, The Doomy Poems, was a professional barber; he had brothers lined up at his door (especially during Homecoming Week).
When hunger struck late at night, there was this older cat named Snappy who’d park his food truck in front of St. Mike’s and asked, “What you want, G?” He hooked us up with mad grub (each meal came with a complementary cold drink).
What was staggering to me, though, was the huge gender disparity between women and men—about 22:1. I had heard about the lack of black males present at higher education, but there was nothing like seeing it firsthand.
NV: What do you remember about Creative Writing at XU, and New Voices? Please reflect.
JM: I remember the great faculty at the Creative Writing Department at XU. Major Jackson, who teaches at the University of Vermont, was my first Creative Writing professor. He was very generous with his workshop critiques and book recommendations. At one point, he even showed me the galleys (i.e. proofs) for his manuscript, Leaving Saturn, which had won the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for best first book, and predicted that one day I’d have a poetry book of my own.
Then, there was Terrance Hayes, my second Creative Writing professor, who now teaches at both his alma mater and mine: the University of Pittsburgh. He had a wild sense of humor. What I dug about Terrance was how he had the capacity to offer valuable feedback on the different styles of poetry that students brought to the workshops.
And last we have Dr. Biljana Obradovic, who’s still holding down the fort. Her advanced readings classes prepared me for the rigorous curriculum that I encountered as an MFA student at Pitt. … New Voices gave me my first experience with rejection (ca 2000), but I was motivated to receive an acceptance letter. I spent most of my time honing my craft, and I submitted poems to them a year or so later. I can’t recall which poems I submitted to New Voices, but I recall receiving my first acceptance letter ever from them.
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