Come out to see fiction writer Tyriek White and poet Hallie Beard read as part of the MFA program’s Broken English series. We caught up with White and Beard to find out what inspires their writing, and you can catch their readings tonight at 9 p.m at Proud Larry’s!
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about the work you’ll be reading Tuesday night?
White: It’s essentially about a person dealing with loss.
Beard: Tuesday I’ll be reading a mix of poems–some are from a research-based series I’ve been working on about the mail order bride industry, and some are new poems that deal a lot with household objects and items–I’ve been obsessed with this sort of “anti-pastoral” mode lately and thinking a lot about plastic and food for some reason.
Who are some writers that have influenced your work?
White: Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz.
Beard: It’s hard to determine who has actually influenced my work in a visible way, but this year I’ve been especially fixated on/inspired by the work of francine j. harris, Shane McCrae, and Ross Gay–we’re really in a golden age of poetry right now, and their work exemplifies why: it’s inventive, risky, subversive, and so well-controlled. I’ll always gravitate toward writers who excite me with language and have a commitment to fearlessness and playfulness.
Was there any particular moment that made you realize you wanted to become a writer?
White: I think it was an accumulation of moments, but really my grandmother. She was the first storyteller I knew.
Beard: I think it was a realization that crept up on me, but I became exposed to some amazing Kentucky-based writers in high school, and went through a summer arts program that helped me realize it was an attainable goal. I decided I’d be a writing major in college, and after my first workshop, I knew there was no going back on it.
Who is one author you’ve been reading lately?
White: Adam Johnson, particularly “Fortune Smiles.”
Beard: I’m currently reading the new Best American Short Stories collection and Dogfight by Michael Knight–I can never just read one book at once, and am usually jumping around in collections.
What made you choose to get an MFA? Why did you choose the University of Mississippi?
White: I wanted to give myself every opportunity to improve my craft. The space, the guidance, the access to so many invaluable resources. To have a program set up around you that only wants to nurture your art is a writer’s dream.
Beard: I knew I wanted to continue having a writing community and education after college–the workshop environment may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but having other serious, working writers as your classmates, colleagues, and friends is invaluable. It’s so wonderful to have classmates who are already publishing, teaching, and touring because I get to see their hard work and dedication pay off in real time. I was first interested in the program for the faculty here–I thought my application (which had to be sent in by snail mail, the old-fashioned way!) was a long shot, because I knew this program was quickly becoming regarded as one of the best, especially for Southern writers/readers (or those interested in getting haunted by Faulkner). When the program’s director, Derrick Harriell, reached out to me, I knew immediately this place was full of kind people who treated the work of others with respect and care. Visiting the school also showed me that–this is a really close-knit and supportive program, one where both the faculty and candidates are constantly challenging themselves and each other. I’m really thankful to be in such a diverse, generous, motivating community of writers and educators.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY — Tyriek did his undergrad at Pitzer College in Southern California. He is a 2016 Callaloo Fellow and taught prose, poetry, and hip-hop in NYC high schools before coming to Ole Miss.
Hallie Beard is from Louisville, Kentucky, and is a recent graduate of Murray State University. She currently lives in Oxford, MS, where she is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi.