Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Harryette Mullen


Harryette Mullen was born in Florence, Alabama, and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. She has earned a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Early in her career as a poet, she worked in the Artists in Schools program sponsored by the Texas Commission on the Arts, and for six years she taught literature at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Her most recent books include Urban Tumbleweed (Graywolf Press, 2013), Blues Baby: Early Poems (Bucknell University Press, 2002), and Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press, 2002), a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry. Three of her earliest collections—all published in the 1990s—were collected into Recyclopedia (Graywolf Press, 2006), which received a PEN Beyond Margins Award. In 2013, Mullen published the chapbook Broken Glish: Five Prose Poems by Harryette Mullen with The Center For Book Arts.

Mullen's work is driven by wordplay and allusion, centered in a larger tradition of African American writing and representations of black women. The poet Michael Palmer has noted that reading Mullen's work "is a bit like hearing a new musical instrument for the first time, playing against a prevalent social construction of reality."

The 2009 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, Mullen is also the recipient of grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, and the Texas Institute of Letters. Mullen's other honors include a Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry and the Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship; a Rockefeller Fellowship from the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Women's Studies at the University of Rochester; and a United States Artist Fellowship. She teaches African American literature and creative writing in the English Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary (Graywolf Press 2013)
Recyclopedia (Graywolf Press, 2006)
Blues Baby: Early Poems (Bucknell University Press, 2002)
Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press, 2002)
Muse & Drudge (Singing Horse Press, 1995)
S*PeRM**K*T (Singing Horse Press, 1992)
Trimmings (Tender Buttons Books, 1991)
Tree Tall Woman (Energy Earth Communications, 1981)

The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed To Be: Essays and Interviews (University of Alabama Press), 2012

By This Poet


Black Nikes

We need quarters like King Tut needed a boat. A slave could row him to heaven from his crypt in Egypt full of loot. We've lived quietly among the stars, knowing money isn't what matters. We only bring enough to tip the shuttle driver when we hitch a ride aboard a trailblazer of light. This comet could scour the planet. Make it sparkle like a fresh toilet swirling with blue. Or only come close enough to brush a few lost souls. Time is rotting as our bodies wait for now I lay me down to earth. Noiseless patient spiders paid with dirt when what we want is star dust. If nature abhors an expensive appliance, why does the planet suck ozone? This is a big ticket item, a thickety ride. Please page our home and visit our sigh on the wide world’s ebb. Just point and cluck at our new persuasion shoes. We’re opening the gate that opens our containers for recycling. Time to throw down and take off on our launch. This flight will nail our proof of pudding. The thrill of victory is, we’re exiting earth. We're leaving all this dirt.

Page 1 / Sapphire's lyre styles

Sapphire's lyre styles
plucked eyebrows
bow lips and legs
whose lives are lonely too

my last nerve's lucid music
sure chewed up the juicy fruit
you must don't like my peaches
there's some left on the tree

you've had my thrills
a reefer a tub of gin
don't mess with me I'm evil
I'm in your sin

clipped bird eclipsed moon
soon no memory of you
no drive or desire survives
you flutter invisible still

Page 5 / sun goes on shining

sun goes on shining
while the debbil beats his wife
blues played lefthanded
topsy-turvy inside out

under the weather
down by the sea
a broke johnny walker
mister meaner

bigger than a big man
cirrus as a heart attracts
more power than a loco motive
think your shit don't stink

edge against a wall
wearing your colors
soulfully worn out
stylishly distressed