Harryette Mullen was born in Florence, Alabama, and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. She has earned a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Early in her career as a poet, Mullen 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.
Mullen’s 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. In 2023, Mullen was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
Mullen teaches African American literature and creative writing in the English department at the University of California, Los Angeles.