Interview with Shirley Jones-Luke


What is a current project you are working on?

I’m working on a poetry manuscript. The title is EMBODY. The poems explore the many different traumas placed upon Black & Brown bodies.

What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

A good piece of writing advice I received was to be more specific in my work. My writing teacher, A. Van Jordan, told me to “let go” and not hold back what I’m trying to say. I have to be more concrete in my poems. I’m working on that.

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?

The greatest influences on my writing has been my mother, my neighborhood and the many African-American and Latinx poets I have read over the years. My mother passed away over a year ago and that had a devastating effect on my writing. I still have difficulty writing long form, but it’s improving. Poetry has helped me navigate through the waters of my grief and propel me towards a stronger place. I grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Boston, but there were so many good things about where I grew up. The old schoolyard across from my house. The block parties on our street. Walking to the corner store. There were bad things too, but they provided the foundation for my writing. I admire many poets of color – Phyllis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Terrance Hayes, Danez Smith and many others. I have their books and read them for enjoyment and inspiration. I love reading the works of new poets. Their poetry helps me with my work.

How do you find inspiration for your work, particularly these pieces?

I write when I’m moved by something either internally or externally. For these pieces, I wrote in response to experiences and witness. That’s what often drives my writing.

Do you have a  favorite place to write, or are there any habits, rituals, inspirations, etc. that help you write best? 

My favorite place to write is on my couch in my living room. It’s also where I do most of my reading. When I’m away from home, I like to be surrounded by nature. I like it to be quiet. I want to soak in the silence. Music also inspires me to write. I’m a Hip Hop & RnB fan and I’m often inspired to write after hearing my favorite songs.

Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?

I recently read Fatimah Asghar’s “If They Come For Us: Poems.”  I enjoyed her work.  Her poems were very visceral. I felt I was in the poem with the speaker.  I felt the speaker’s pain.  Another book would be Terrance Hayes’ latest work, “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.” This was another emotion-laden work that was descriptive and informative.