Community Refocused: A Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirty-two books, including Look to Your Left:  The Poetics of Spectacle (Akron Poetry Series, forthcoming in 2020); Je Suis L’Autre:  Essays & Interrogations (C&R Press, 2017), which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by The Brooklyn Rail; DARK HORSE: Poems (C&R Press, 2018), which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly; and a critical study on poetry and silence, which is forthcoming from Clemson University Press. Her work has been recognized with three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held both the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet and the Howard Moss Residency in Poetry; a Fundación Valparaíso fellowship; a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, funded by the Heinz Foundation; an artist-in-residence position at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris; four residencies at the American Academy in Rome; two grants from the Whiting Foundation; a Faber Residency in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities; a Morris Fellowship in the Arts; and the Dan Liberthson Prize from the Academy of American Poets, which she received on three separate occasions, among many other awards and honors. Her poems appear in Guernica, The Harvard Review, Poetry International, New American Writing, Nimrod, Passages North, The Mid-American Review, and on the Academy of American Poets’ website, She has published essays in Agni, Ploughshares, The Brooklyn Rail, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Green Mountains Review, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, and numerous other magazines. Kristina currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly, an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Review of Books, a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly, a staff blogger at The Kenyon Review, and a freelance book critic at The New York Times Book Review.


Heidi Seaborn: Thank you for taking time out of your whirlwind schedule! With over 40 books and a zillion essays, articles, reviews, interviews, stories and poems, you have established yourself as the one of the most prolific writers and scholars. In fact, your CV runs nearly 20 pages! How do you do it all?

Kristina Marie Darling: Thanks so much for your kind words! Honestly, the secret to a productive and fulfilling literary life is asking for funding. Most writers, especially women, are hesitant to apply or query about the opportunities that are available to them. But there are literary arts fellowships and residencies around the world that exist to give writers time and space to work on their projects. And those who ask shall receive!

When I was working on my doctorate, I chose to complete my Ph.D. thesis long distance, and took this as an opportunity to perfect my grant and application writing skills. Since I was only grant seeking part-time, I could practice pitching different projects, and if something didn’t come through, it wasn’t the end of the world. I would advise any writer who aspires to be a grant-seeking artist and write full-time to start small, and work their way up to doing this for a living.  In the end, I’m proud of my expertise as a grant and application writer, and have had the opportunity to visit art centers around the world, like Yaddo, the American Academy in Rome, Hawthornden Castle, Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, the Cove Park Foundation, Ucross, and many others. It’s been fulfilling to meet and collaborate with other creative practitioners from around the world.

HS: What is your secret to apply for and winning fellowships? How do the fellowship experiences impact your work?

KMD: The impact on my work has been real and tangible. These literary arts fellowships offer the opportunity to interface with artists across disciplines, artists who come from around the world. I’ve met wonderful collaborators who have expanded my sense of what’s possible in my own creative work. For example, while in residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, I was fortunate to meet composer Dale Trumbore, who has set my several of my poems to music. When I see the beautiful performances that Dale has facilitated, it’s like seeing my poems brought to life. I also met installation artist Naoko Ito at the same residency, and we stitched poetry onto a kite and flew it in the desert. I feel strongly that every writer should benefit from these amazing opportunities, and I now help others reach their goals through my small business, Penelope Coaching & Consulting.

HS: Can you share a visual snapshot of some of the beautiful places you’ve gotten to spend time in?

KMD: While at the American Academy in Rome this spring, I traveled to Sorrento, Sienna, Florence, Milan, and Orvieto. But the highlight by far was Venice, where I’ll have the privilege of returning as artist-in-residence at Scuola Internazionale de Grafica Venizia.

HS: You just started on your second MFA, this time in Non-Fiction at Columbia, after an MFA from NYU, a PhD in Philosophy in English Lit from SUNY and a MA in American Culture from Washington University. Why go back to academia now for the fifth time when you are so very established?

KMD: Columbia offered me a wonderful fellowship award, and the opportunity to participate in the cultural life of New York, have the resources of the university at my disposal as I work on my memoir, and grow my business here in the city, and benefit from subsidized housing has been invaluable. The creative writing community at Columbia is outstanding as well, and I’m thrilled for the upcoming season of literary readings and events at CU.

HS: When the tables are turned and you are the professor, what do you take from your academic journey into the classroom?

KMD: In my teaching, I focus on the politics inherent in the forms in which we write, as well as they the relationships and power structures that different literary forms cultivate. For me, teaching writing is teaching citizenship. It’s showing students how to exist in a discourse community. For that reason, I emphasize the importance of looking beyond the classroom, and beyond the university, and becoming part of a larger community of working writers. All of my courses include exercises that push students out into the artworld, such as submissions bombing, where we send submissions to interested editors after studying their journal, book reviewer apprenticeships, and more. With that in mind, reaching out into the community beyond the university becomes a form of professional empowerment for students as well, something that they can take pride in and build on throughout their careers.

HS: For our readers who are emerging writers, tell us about your early days as a writer and critic. What would you recommend for those of us just starting out?

KMD: Most of my connections with editors, magazines, and book review outlets came from volunteering. I actually started volunteering as an editor for a small press, and as a book reviewer, as an undergraduate in college. That way, I was ready to hit the ground running when I graduated. To emerging writers, I would say get involved in any way you can, whether as an editor, a reader at a magazine, or a book reviewer. If you give to your community and offer your effort, your expertise, and your time, your community will give back to you.

HS: You have written several collaborations with other writers, including the recently released Re:VERSES chapbook with Chris Campanioni (The Operating System). What makes for a strong collaboration?

KMD: It’s crucial to leave room for the other to speak. I’ve read some collaborations where the writing of one poet completely overpowers what their colleague is doing. Part of collaboration is listening, and giving your partner space to expand, to breathe, and to shine.

HS: Your most recent poetry collection, Dark Horse, came out in 2017 from C&R Press. Can we expect to see another book of poetry from you sometime soon?

KMD: I have a text and image project that I’m shopping around right now. It documents my travels across three continents through photography and poetry. Wish me luck in the submissions process!

HS: I’m sure it will find a publisher soon, and in the meantime, you have continued to write poetry criticism, and with three books of poetry criticism being published in the next couple years, it appears to be a focus. Can you talk to what you are seeing in poetry that has served to motivate your response?

KMD: I see poetry criticism as a way of refocusing the community’s attention and bringing visibility to writers who may not yet have received the readership they so deserve. In that way, critical analysis becomes a form of activism, a corrective gesture into the literary landscape. It is my great hope that my critical books will be used as poetry textbooks, and the women writers, non-binary writers, and writers of color whose work I’m engaging will be more widely taught. There is no greater gift that can be given to a writer than bringing his or her work into the classroom and cultivating community around their book. This is what I hope to achieve for the talented writers whose work I’m considering in these essay collections, such as Kara Candito, Asiya Waddud, Laurie Sheck, Henk Rossouw, Hala Alyan, and many others.

HS: You’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly for nearly two years. What has been the biggest surprise for you in taking on this role?

KMD: Surprise is the best part of my role! I love reading through submissions, and discovering a writer’s work that I didn’t previously know, an emerging voice that commands the page. I greatly enjoy seeing books before anyone else does, and having a preview of what the literary landscape is going to look like.

While submissions certainly offer the unexpected delight of new voices, I have to say that the biggest surprise has been the way my views on gatekeeping have changed. Two years into my role, I’m deeply invested in incorporating many voices in the acquisitions process. I spearheaded an initiative to incorporate panels of preliminary judges in our contests. These talented writers help select which manuscripts are honored as finalists and passed on to the judge. This is important to me because I love empowering women, non-binary writers, and writers of color in gatekeeping roles. We have hosted all-female panels of preliminary judges, and all of our preliminary judge panels are comprised of a majority of women, LGTBQ writers, and writers of color. I believe that having many voices and perspectives represented in our acquisitions process challenges me as Editor-in-Chief to expand my own tastes and aesthetic predilections, and to step outside of my comfort zone. I’m grateful to our preliminary readers for the robust discussions and outstanding work they’ve brought to my attention.

HS: What can we expect to see in the future from Tupelo?

KMD: We have new books in the works from such literary luminaries as G.C. Waldrep, Karla Kelsey, Noah Falck, Adeeba Shahid Talukder, and Laurel Nakanishi. And we are making it easier for educators to bring these books into their classroom by offering free curricular materials for many of our titles. Visit our course adoptions page to download the free lesson plans and request desk copies of Tupelo Press books.

HS: From the vantage point of critic and editor, what are you seeing happening in the literary world today? What’s exciting? What’s concerning? What’s surprising?

KMD: Honestly, I think Twittermobs are concerning for our arts communities. I have an essay about this in The Los Angeles Review of Books. In this essay, I talk about the ways mob mentality on social media gives rise to self-censorship, and it is ultimately counterproductive for a community of creative practitioners. Stay tuned!

HS: Finally, what does a day off look like for you?!

KMD: It’s non-existent! Or, it exists only in my dreams.

HS: Thank you, Kristina, for bringing us behind the scenes of your extraordinary literary life!



Heidi Seaborn

Heidi Seaborn is the author of [PANK] Poetry Prize winner An Insomniac’s Slumber Party with Marilyn Monroe (2021), the acclaimed Give a Girl Chaos (C&R Press, 2019) and the 2020 Comstock Review Chapbook Award-winning, Bite Marks. Recent poems and essays in American Poetry Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, The Cortland Review, The Financial Times, The Greensboro Review, The Hunger, Hobart, LitHub, The Offing, The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith, Tinderbox, Washington Post and elsewhere. She’s Executive Editor of The Adroit Journal and holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU.

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