Newtown Literary is pleased to spotlight Queens writer Richard Jeffrey Newman. We interviewed him about his new book, For My Son, a Kind of Prayer, and his responses are below. His website is www.richardjnewman.com.
Tell us about For My Son, a Kind of Prayer. What is it about?
For My Son, A Kind of Prayer is a chapbook of poems about my son and about my experience of being a father. In particular, there are poems exploring what it’s like to be the father of a boy growing up in a culture where ideas about manhood and masculinity are changing, but where traditional notions of what it means to be a man—especially sexually, and especially in terms of sexual violence—are still prevalent. One question the poems take on in several different ways is how to find a language in which to talk about these issues without inadvertently perpetuating that violence. In particular, the final poem in the book explores what it’s like to be, myself, both a survivor of childhood sexual violence and the father of a son who will have to work out his own relationship to those issues as he grows up.
Tell us about the process of writing For My Son, a Kind of Prayer.
I did not sit down and say, “I am going to write a series of poems about my son.” Rather, the poems emerged slowly, over time.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I find it hard to think about a specific take-away when talking about my poems—not because the poems don’t deal with substantive issues or raise what I hope are important or interesting questions, but because, for me, the poems that are most successful explore those issues and questions without proposing a specific answer or moral or “correct” political stance. What I hope is that people who read this book will come away with their own, perhaps new questions about fathers and sons, men and masculinity, with their own, new feelings to explore when it comes to these issues.
What else have you written?
In addition to For My Son, a Kind of Prayer, I have published a book of poems, The Silence of Men (CavanKerry Press 2006) and three books of translations: Selections from Saadi’s Gulistan and Selections from Saadi’s Bustan (Global Scholarly Publications, 2004 & 2006 respectively) and The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (Junction Press 2011).
How does/did being a Queens writer influence your writing?
What I find most important about being a Queens writer is the community I am so fortunate to be a part of.
What other writers have influenced or inspired you?
My two earliest, conscious influences as a poet were June Jordan and e. e. cummings. Other writers whose work I have found important over the years: James Baldwin, Sallie Tisdale, Ana Castillo, Hayden Carruth, Lucille Clifton, Yasunari Kawabata. There are, of course, others.
When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite thing to do?
Aside from spending time with people I care about: listening to music and/or playing piano.
Tell us something about you that has nothing to do with your book.
When I was in college, what I wanted most was to study music. These days, I fulfill that part of myself by performing in the end-of-the-year musical the faculty at my college puts on every May.
What should I have asked that I didn’t?
Well, I am privileged to serve on Newtown Literary’s Board of Directors, and I also curate the First Tuesdays reading series at Terraza Cafe in Elmhurst. Each of these activities allows me to participate in the Queens literary community in fulfilling ways.
Where can readers buy your book?
For My Son, A Kind of Prayer is available for $10 from Ghostbird Press.
Readers, mark your calendars:
- Join the Risk of Discovery Reading Series on June 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Astoria Coffee for a writing workshop followed by a poetry open mic and show led by Micah Zevin and featuring Lisa Marie Basile, Richard Jeffrey Newman, and J.T. Price. There is a $10 cover charge, which will serve as credit toward food or drink.
- Join the Queens Council on the Arts for WordFeast on July 1 at 6:30 p.m. for a reading by Peruvian writer Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo, followed by traditional Peruvian cuisine and a Q&A. Tickets are free but required.
- Join the LIC Reading Series on July 12 at 8:00 p.m. at LIC Bar for readings and a panel discussion with Rumaan Alam, Patrick Ryan, and Lynn Steger Strong.
- Join Poetry and Coffee at the Queens Lit Fest on July 16 at 6 p.m. for a reading and discussion featuring Connie Salvayon, Ingrid Gociu, Sandi Leibowitz, Richie Alexandro, and Valerie G. Keane. Tickets are free.
- Join the Risk of Discovery Reading Series on July 31 at 1 p.m. as part of the New York City Poetry Festival. The reading will feature Susan Weiman, Peter Marra, Jared Harel, Abigail Welhouse, Ron Kolm, Craig Kite, and Valerie G. Keane.
- Join Boundless Tales on July 31 at 1:30 p.m. as part of the New York City Poetry Festival. The reading will feature Sydney Hartlove, Catherine Fletcher, and Andres Castro.
- The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning is calling for artists to apply for a free one-month residency. For more information, and to apply, check out the JCAL website. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.