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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Words to Live By: Jaki Shelton Green

This segment features interviews with Book Harvest authors, artists, and community members. North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green, recently took the time to join me over Zoom to talk about books, writing, and the words she lives by. Please enjoy! – Benay Hicks, Communications Manager

April 1, 2021

Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. She is the author of eight collections of poetry including “Dead on Arrival,” and has been published in over eighty national and international anthologies and featured in magazines such as Essence and Ms. Magazine. She is a member of Book Harvest’s Author’s Circle and a wonderful friend to the organization.

Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?

The book that was most impactful when I was a child was Little Women. Mainly because I could identify with Jo; I wanted to be wild and carefree.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I grew up in a rural, close-knit community; as a child, I found it very boring, so I turned to books. Books represented other worlds to me — I found myself inside of other worlds, and I found other worlds residing within me. My mom is 104 and is still an avid reader. She was the one who gave me my love of books. Books filled my childhood home, and they fill my home now. Every day there is a book delivery. I love the language, rhythms and landscapes, and full spectrum of emotions that good authors can inspire.

It sounds like you prefer hard copies of books to e-books…

Yes! I have to feel a book, hold a book, lose a book, fall asleep with a book.

What book should everybody read before they turn 18?

I suggest Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It blew my mind as a teenager, and I reread it recently. When I look at the craft of his writing…it’s just amazing.

What kind of books are on your bookshelf?

Everything. Novels, memoirs, travel books. I love art books. Interior design books. I have tons of books on places I love, like Morocco and other parts of Africa. I also have a huge cookbook collection, and of course, I have a lot of poetry. Poetry lives in my study…I have to see it and be with it when I’m working.

Do you have a favorite poet?

Mary Oliver. Kahlil Gibran. Rumi. Hafez. I really appreciate all kinds of poetry. I’m also fascinated by new voices – those are the poets that I’m seeking right now.

What are you reading currently?

My dear friend, Randall Kenan, recently passed away and I am reading his work: If I Had Two Wings.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

As the poet laureate of NC, all of my running around the state is now virtual so I’m always on Zoom and I haven’t really had time to write. My creativity has gone in other directions – photography, sketching, and I love playing with paint. I’ve also been getting more creative with my cooking; I have tons of Moroccan and middle eastern cookbooks.

Who is your favorite all-time character from a book? Is it Jo?

Yes; Jo from Little Women. It’s because I remember her. I read that book when I was 10 or 11, but I just kept coming back to her.

What is your favorite place to read? Pre- and/or during the pandemic?

My favorite place to read is the bed. When it’s warm, I also love my wonderful screened in-porch. In the summer I spend hours out there reading on the couch.

If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?

Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Joy Harjo (the first Native American United States poet laureate).

What are the children in your life currently reading?

I am reading I Am Enough by Grace Byers with my three year old granddaughter. [Watch Grace read it online!]

Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?

Writer, Red Haircrow, once said: “I write to believe in goodness.”

We are so grateful to Jaki for being a friend to Book Harvest and for answering our questions. You can read more about Jaki Shelton Green on her website:


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