Whatcha Reading, M’Bilia Meekers?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

M’Bilia Meekers is a queer black poet from New Orleans, Louisiana, and she just joined us in Seattle as the new publicity manager for the University of Washington Press. She has an MFA in Poetry from NYU and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Watering Hole, and Poets & Writers. Her poetry has previously appeared, or is forthcoming in, the New Yorker, Guernica, The Rumpus, Split Lip Magazine, The Adroit Journal, Arc Poetry Magazine, Tinderbox, Poet Lore, Wildness, and elsewhere.

Whatcha Reading, M'Bilia Meekers?

What are you reading now?

I was at the Elliot Bay Book Company for work recently and was having a conversation with Rick and Karen about being a first generation American (my mom is from Sierra Leone and my dad is from Belgium), my love for New Orleans, and how I was adjusting to Seattle, having just moved here at the end of October. At the end of our chat, Rick recommended I pick up Happiness by Aminatta Forna. I’ve just started reading it (just finished the first chapter!) and having heard a little bit about the story before I started, I did not expect it to start with a wolfer. I’m definitely intrigued.

I basically read 95% poetry so it’s been a very long time since I’ve read a novel (over three years I think) and it’s exciting to exercise my fiction brain. I’m always reading to discover what tools a writer uses to build their poem, story, essay, etc. and thinking about the art of writing the way someone would think about building a table (what materials did they use, how many legs did they add, where did they place the screws, so to speak). I’ve never read Forna before and I’m excited to see how she constructs her narrative.

What did you read last?

A few years ago, one exes introduced me to the world of graphic narratives and now, after poetry, I’d say I read comic books the most. The last two I read were Monstress: Volume 3 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and Saga: Volume 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Monstress is such a beautifully drawn series and has such a lush, dynamic narrative. It’s really considering what it means for a young woman to have a part of herself that’s extremely powerful, but also uncontrollable and scary. Plus, cat and poets make an appearance - you’ve got to love that! If I had to sum up Saga for a new reader, I’d say two soldiers from warring planets have a taboo intergalactic love child and trouble ensues. It’s a really engaging, down to earth (ha!) story with complex characters that I recommend to anyone who wants to try out a comic that’s not interested in the flat dichotomies you often find in superhero comics (no shade to Marvel and DC).

What are you reading next?

Like many bookworms, I have an embarrassing mountain of books to read on my bedside table. The next two I’ll tackle are most likely A Book of Delights by Ross Gay and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Ross Gay is absolutely one of my favorite poets (Read him. Just do it. You’ll thank me later.) and I recently got my hands on an ARC of A Book of Delights and could barely stop myself from reading the whole thing while just flipping through the pages. He has this way with extending his syntax that just makes me feel light and unburdened even when he’s exploring difficult subjects like our current political landscape or something quirky like spoons or feet. I also went to some meetings on the East Coast last week and my colleague was kind enough to gift me with Offil’s Dept. of Speculation, since I mentioned my exciting foray back into the world of fiction. He called it a poet’s novel and I was sold!

What book would you recommend as a holiday gift?

The first book that came to mind was The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. I have this memory of reading it during my first summer in Brooklyn right after I got back from Cave Canem. I was on the C train with that hot, humid subway air blasting on my neck and tearing up as I was reading, so absorbed in the memoir that I missed my stop and was late for a lunch with one of my new friends. I’m currently at that age where all of my grandparents are dying and my family is having a tough time in general. The Light of the World is a beautifully written and moving book about love and kindness, more than tragedy. It reminds me to appreciate the people in my life for whatever amount of time I have with them.