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Hettie Jones

Hettie Jones
Visiting Writers Series

Hettie Jones is a poet and prose writer, author of How I Became Hettie Jones, a memoir of the "beat scene" of the fifties and sixties, currently available in a paperback edition from Grove Press.  Jones's short prose has been published in journals such as Fence, Global City Review and Ploughshares, and she has also written numerous books for children and young adults. In 1998 Jones's poetry collection, Drive, was issued by Hanging Loose Press.  Hailed as the work of a "potent and fearless poet" (Booklist), with "a good mind and sound ideas" (Independent Publisher) and "the gift to paint with vivid words and to cloak her wit with images that linger in the mind long after the reading" (Midwest Book Review), Drive won the Poetry Society of America's 1999 Norma Farber First Book Award.  Jones’s second collection, All Told, was published in 2003; the Publishers Weekly review mentions her “knowing urban wit” and her “acute compassion and humor”; the Booklist review cites the book as “rock-solid.”  Her third collection, Doing 70, appeared in March 2007; the Booklist review mentions “delightfully quirky insight,” “sharp wit,” and “”biting but brief political commentary,” and Marie Ponsot writes in Commonweal, “tuneful poems…centered and engaged….I know of no other poet’s voice so at ease in welcoming the fact that we are all people of color, “looking/for bread but asking/ for roses.” Jones teaches currently in the Graduate Writing Program of the New School and at the 92nd St. Y Poetry Center.  She is the former Chair of the PEN Prison Writing Committee, and from 1989-2002 ran a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women at Bedford Hills, from which she published a nationally distributed collection, Aliens At The Border.  From 1994-1996 she was a member of the Literature Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts.  She has served two terms on the Board of Directors of Cave Canem, an organization in support of young African American poets, and is currently a member of PEN’s Advisory Council. In 1958, Hettie (nee Cohen) married the as-yet-unpublished poet LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka).  One of the few visible interracial couples at that time, they had two children, co-edited Yugen, an influential literary magazine, and were at the "hot center" of the downtown bohemian New York literary, jazz, and art worlds.  It is this story of their life together, and their acquaintance with other outstanding figures of that era, that is told in her memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones.  The Kirkus Review called the book "a lively, candid account" and "a splendid job" that is "always insightful and frequently amusing." Russell Banks praised "the clarity of her writing"; Gloria Naylor said that the book "becomes every woman's story in the search for a center and a love of self"; Jamaica Kincaid called it a book "every American ought to read; and Lawrence Ferlinghetti said: "A feminist scrutiny such as this is just what those lost decades needed, as the Beats themselves needed it."   The New York Times recommended the book on its summer reading list for 1990, its Christmas 1990 list of the 200 Notable Books of the year, and its "New and Noteworthy" paperback list in 1991. The mother of two grown daughters, Hettie Jones lives in Manhattan's East Village.  She is currently at work on Love, H. a memoir in letters; Race Tracks, a book of linked stories; and Press Firmly, a collection of new and selected poems. Photo Credit: Colleen McKay.