TJ Jarrett | Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

The NEXT Next Big Thing


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Mary Biddinger, author of Prairie FeverSt. Monica, and O Holy Insurgency, has started a self-interview series called The Next Big Thing.  I was tagged earlier this year to do one for my first book, Ain’t No Grave (coming out October 2013 with New Issues Press) and then I found out that the next one won the Crab Orchard Series 2013. This is humbling and a great blessing. The projected release for Zion (SIU Press, Crab Orchard Series in Poetry) is fall 2014.

What is the working title of the book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

Unlike the first book, I didn’t have any master plan on what I was going to write about. I thought for a while that it was going to be about Mississippi and then about how slippery it is to go home again. And then I got sick. And then I got a scholarship to go to the Colrain Manuscript Conference which at the time I thought would be for my first book and then the first book got picked up literally a week later.  THEN I had several friends and my grandmother die all at once and I had to postpone going to Colrain. Somewhere in that stew of serious illness and death and spending time with my grandmamma as she was dying, a book happened.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve always imagined Theodore Bilbo being played by Robert Duvall. I’m sure Robert Duvall would take issue with that, though.  Miss Polly, Cicely Tyson & my grandmother would be Diahann Carroll. And then there’s the ‘I’, who is wholly disembodied. I’ve never thought of the I as myself per se and couldn’t even begin to think of that character as having a face at all.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Zion explores mortality and race on a micro level but most importantly, how forgiveness fits into all of this. Do we have to forgive? Is there such a thing as having ‘standing’ (in the legal sense) to ask for redress? (See how that’s not one sentence there?  I wrote a book since one sentence will not hold it.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’d been writing these poems on and off for about six months after I’d finished (or thought I’d finished) Ain’t No Grave. They didn’t fit into it simply because it was so far up the timeline from where I was writing. And the poems became very personal. But it took me about a month to gather up the pieces and begin to write into the ms in earnest. Also: I had to get something together for the Colrain conference.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Right before my grandmother died, we began talking like we never had. We’d never discussed the Civil Rights movement, for instance, although she was one of the first people to send material support to the Freedom School in Meridian, MS. We never discussed the disappearance of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman. We never discussed her decision to send my mother to Meridian High when it was desegregated. Our family lived through some of the worst of it, and we didn’t speak of it in part because they were already so very tired of talking about it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A lot of this book dwells on reckoning with the past, forgiveness both for the past being whatever it was as well as our actions and agency within that time.  I circle out dealing with forgiveness on an interpersonal level as well as managing the slights a whole country has conferred.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Zion will be published by Southern Illinois University Press with the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. It should be available in the fall of 2014.


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