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Award-Winning Poets Discuss Their Work With Drew Students

Nicole Sealey and John Murillo share insights into writing.

March 2018 – Award-winning poets Nicole Sealey and John Murillo shared their poems—and the stories behind them—with students at Drew University.

The poets, who are married to each other, read from their work and answered questions as part of a series known as Writers@Drew, which is sponsored by The Casement Fund and the English Department.

Sealey, an adjunct professor of English at Drew and the author of the poetry collections Ordinary Beast and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, covered a range of topics during her reading, including a poem dedicated to Murillo that began, “We wake as if surprised the other is still there, each petting the sheet to be sure.” She’s also executive director of the Cave Canem Foundation—a literary service nonprofit for African-American poets—and a past fellow of CantoMundo and The MacDowell Colony.

Another poem of hers imagined a time, a century from now, when a black reader might read about lynching and be so far removed from that history that she would be “dumbfounded by its meaning.”

Murillo, author of the collection Up Jump the Boogie and a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Open Book Award, read narrative poems that are based on his experiences, including the memory of finding a dead coyote, “a frail and dusty heap of regret.” He won a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and is developing the forthcoming Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry.

Another poem told of seeing a sparrow trapped in a car door, and feeling unable to help—an incident he linked to other times when he did not intervene in a difficult situation.

“What I try to do is bridge the gap between lyric and narrative,” Murillo told students during the Q&A. “We love stories. It’s something that’s compelling; all the sitcoms we watch, every movie . . . I have a lot of stories still to tell.”

For students, the session offered insights into the writing process.

“Sometimes as a writer, I want to see the logic of where the narrative goes,” said Zarina Akbary C’19 of Totowa, N.J. who’s majoring in biochemistry and minoring in nonfiction writing. “I like seeing two very different styles that both have components that I would love to mirror in my own writing.”