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Adrian Matejka

Born: 1971 in Nuremberg, Germany
Connection to Illinois: Matejka is a graduate of the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He lives in Chicago and is the editor of Poetry magazine.

Biography: Adrian Matejka grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington and the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He was the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and fellowships from Cave Canem and the Lannan Foundation. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 2010, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner among other journals and anthologies. He was Poet Laureate of Indiana for 2018-19.

  • The Devil's Garden 2002 Kinereth Gensler Award, Alice James Books
  • Mixology Finalist, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature, National Poetry Series, 2008
  • The Big Smoke 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Finalist, National Book Award, 2013;Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, 2014;
  • Other Awards Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, Julia Peterkin Award, Pushcart Prize,

Primary Literary Genre(s): History; Non-Fiction; Poetry

Primary Audience(s): Adult readers


Selected Titles

Last On His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century
ISBN: 1631495585 OCLC:

Liveright 2023

A groundbreaking graphic portrait of boxing legend Jack Johnson, Last On His Feet offers a front-row seat to the Battle of the Century.On the morning of July 4, 1910, thousands of boxing fans stormed a newly built stadium in Reno, Nevada, to witness an epic showdown. Jack Johnson, the world’s first Black heavyweight champion―and most infamous athlete in the world because of his race―was paired against Jim Jeffries, a former heavyweight champion then heralded as the “great white hope.” It was the height of the Jim Crow era, and spectators were eager for Jeffries to restore the racial hierarchy that Johnson had pummeled with his quick fists.Transporting readers directly into the ring, artist Youssef Daoudi and poet Adrian Matejka intersperse dramatic boxing action with vivid flashbacks to reveal how Johnson, the self-educated son of formerly enslaved parents, reached the pinnacle of sport―all while facing down a racist justice system. Through a combination of breathtaking illustrations and striking verse, Last on His Feet honors a contentious civil rights figure who has for more than a century been denied his proper due.

Map to the Stars
ISBN: 9780143130574 OCLC: 953438777

Penguin New York, N.Y. : 2017

A resonant new collection of poetry from Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke, a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award Map to the Stars, the fourth poetry collection from National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Adrian Matejka, navigates the tensions between race, geography, and poverty in America during the Reagan Era. In the time of space shuttles and the Strategic Defense Initiative, outer space is the only place equality seems possible, even as the stars serve to both guide and obscure the earthly complexities of masculinity and migration. In Matejka's poems, hope is the link between the convoluted realities of being poor and the inspiring possibilities of transcendence and escape--whether it comes from Star Trek, the dream of being one of the first black astronauts, or Sun Ra's cosmic jazz--

ISBN: 9780143115830 OCLC: 276819849

Penguin Books, New York, N.Y. : 2009.

The poems in Adrian Matejka's second collection, Mixology, shapeshift through the myriad meanings of mixing to explore and explode ideas of race, skin politics, appropriation, and cultural identity. Whether the focus of the individual poems is musical, digital, or historical, the otherness implicit in being of more than one racial background guides Matejka's work to the inevitable conclusion that all things-no matter how disparate-are parts of the whole.

The Big Smoke
ISBN: 9780143123729 OCLC: 820123637

Penguin New York, N.Y. : 2013

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxers and white America to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka's third work of poetry, follows the fighter's journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved. Matejka's book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnson's complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth.

The Devil's Garden
ISBN: 1882295412 OCLC: 52030540

Alice James Books 2003

Using musical allusion and metaphor, juxtaposing history and autobiography, Matejka navigates a tri-racial identity. In these poems, having too many heritages means having no heritage at all. As a result, cultural identifiersbe they afros, war paint or William Shatner take the place of identity. Vibrant narrative lyrics use image as riff, syllable as note, to improvise on a personal history severed from tradition.