Pulitzer Prize Winner Jericho Brown Visits Campus


Courtesy of Maggie Graw/Villanovan Photography

Jericho Brown charmed the audience during his live reading.

Elena Rouse, Co-Culture Editor

After his visit to campus, poet Jericho Brown can confidently say he has won not only the Pulitzer Prize, but also the hearts of Villanovan literary lovers. 

Brown is the first guest speaker of the English Department’s annual Literary Festival. The festival takes place each spring and brings in a group of inspiring poets and fiction writers to speak to students. Brown’s visit was the first in-person event to occur in two years. That fact, along with his poetry collections’ success, infused the crowd of listeners with lightning bolt energy. 

Three poetry collections, “Please,” “New Testament” and his most recent and Pulitzer Prize Winner “The Tradition,” give Brown his notoriety. He has won multiple other awards for his work as well, including the American Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Currently, he is the director of creative writing at Emory University. 

The event took place in the reading corner of Falvey on Thursday, Jan. 27, but Brown’s first appearance was beforehand, when he came to a classroom for the class associated with the Festival. “Authors On And Off The Page,” taught by English professors Alan Drew and Lisa Sewell, is offered each spring. In the class, students read the work of the Literary Festival guests, then get the opportunity to meet the authors and discuss their work in depth. 

For Brown’s visit, students in the class read Brown’s “The Tradition.”

The collection of poetry covers a multitude of thought provoking, prevalent issues best described by Brown’s own website.

“‘The Tradition’ questions why and how we’ve become accustomed to terror: in the bedroom, the classroom, the workplace and the movie theater,” the website said. “From mass shootings to rape to the murder of unarmed people by police, Brown interrupts complacency by locating each emergency in the garden of the body, where living things grow and wither—or survive.”

Jessica Laino, a junior and student in the class, spoke of her experience reading the collection and then speaking to Brown.

“I was so nervous in class, about to be face to face with a Pulitzer Prize winner which has always been one of my dreams,” Laino said. “I expected him to be an untouchable, imposing figure, but when he came in he was so warm, so welcoming. He sat in our circle of desks like he was one of us and we were able to have such an open conversation. He made me feel like it was possible for me to be a writer like him, and I’ll cherish that.”

After the conversation with students in class, covering topics like his writing process to specific moments in his collection, the group migrated to the open reading at Falvey. 

The room was packed with interested faculty and students, all buzzing to hear Brown speak. The excitement had stable grounds: when Brown rose to speak after being introduced by students Caroline Sweeney and Lindsay Gallagher, his charm swept over the crowd.

When it comes to authenticity and truth in writing, Jericho Brown is in a league of his own,” Sweeney said. “To have such a vulnerable and talented poet speak to us as creative writing students was inspiring; I feel more willing to put myself forth in my own writing because of what he gives to his readers. Hearing his work in his own voice was powerful. It completely changed the cadence and the percussiveness of each poem in my mind and allowed me to better understand what each piece was trying to do.”

Sweeney also had the chance to get dinner with Brown after the reading. 

“When we went out to dinner after the reading, it was plain to see that Jericho is so deeply rooted in his work,” She said. “He encouraged me, Lindsay, and Kye to keep pursuing writing, and spoke authentically about his journey as a writer.”

For some, this experience was foreign, something audience member and Authors On And Off The Page student, junior Graciela Petrelli, spoke on.

This was the first poetry reading I’d ever been to at Falvey, and I feel so privileged to have had my first experience spent listening to Jericho Brown,” Petrelli said. “Brown is a force of nature. I could have listened to him speak for hours on end. He is personable and funny, but writes and delivers his poems with a power and resonance I’ve never seen before. Brown’s reading was an emotional and spiritual ride, and I came away from it with a newfound appreciation and understanding of poetry as a means of addressing and expressing the world and one’s place in it.”

Leaving poets, writers and lovers of literature all with eyes glowing, it was clear that Brown touched Villanova not only with his profound writing, but also with his exuberant and infectious presence.