Bio: Mary-Alice Daniel was born near the border between Niger/Nigeria; she grew up in England and Tennessee. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan and a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California.
Links: Twitter @MaryAlicePoetry / Instagram @drmaryalicedaniel / Website www.maryalicedaniel.com
Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?
Mary-Alice: I think I can trace my earliest lines of poetry back to my tweens and some sad attempts to emulate the musicians that kept me company after my family moved to a small, cold town in Connecticut. My biggest current influence might be Lucie Brock-Broido; I’ve been doing final edits for my first book of poems and looking at her work to help figure out a few things about form.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Mary-Alice: I went to a Richard Siken reading in 2004 when I was 17 and a freshman at Yale, and I remember that being the exact moment I knew my pre-med plans were probably not going to pan out.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Mary-Alice: Until I finished my doctorate last year, I was juggling 2 different book projects while writing a dissertation. I don’t think I would have survived without David St. John, my committee chair.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
I grew up in England and Tennessee after my immediately family of five emigrated from northern Nigeria when I was very young. The culture clash of moving repeatedly—especially, of moving to such different places—shaped me so profoundly that I wrote a memoir about my wayward upbringing. I often say I wrote my memoir “accidentally,” because it started as a very different project, but I think the story was begging to get out of me.
My next project might center my travels! Mostly solo, I’ve explored 60 countries within the last decade and had some very interesting experiences as a Black woman on my own.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
Mary-Alice: There is nothing like finding the right line to end a poem.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Mary-Alice: I’m really not into relaxing.
Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?
Wherever I die, name that place after me— whatever loosely translates to: “death trundling along a ramshackle Purple Line out to Fukushima-tainted waters” Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or song that always come back to you as an inspiration? Mary-Alice: Songs that make me feel nostalgic jogged my memory as I wrote my memoir. Of those, none can top Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote? Mary-Alice: My first book of prose, A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir Across Three Continents, will be published on November 29th! It is available for preorder at a variety of booksellers linked here: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/a-coastline-is-an-immeasurable-thing-mary-alice-daniel My first book of poetry, Mass for Shut-Ins, won the 2022 Yale Younger Poets Prize and is due out next March. A decade in the making, it can be preordered here: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300267990/mass-for-shut-ins/. Rae Armantrout, who judges the prize, called it “Flowers of Evil for the 21st century.” I was floored. Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you'd like to share during your creative journey? : Mary-Alice: One of my favorite former professors asked me incredulously (after I sent him a draft of my prologue), “Who taught you to write like this??” He was referring to my serious problem with alliteration, one I’ve been trying to deal with for years.