Contributor Interview: Erik Johnson

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.


Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts: what inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

The mirror, post-its, Marie and New York are all almost true.

The poem arrived over a couple years, as each piece found its way in. Recently I see the work of writing as kind of a web – holding several ideas suspended at once.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

Oh, all of the lines are fun for me. It’s a sentimental poem, written with a wisp of a smile behind the speaker’s voice.

But I like the idea of Marie’s name written “in cursive blue.” It’s a kind of relic, it has physicality, and it will mean something different as the years go on.

You were a finalist in the Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers, which means that this is one of your first pieces of published work in your genre. How long have you been writing, and what did being a finalist in the competition mean to you?

I’ve been writing poems since childhood, mostly out of a need to make sense of the world.

Doing an MFA was a big step toward writing with an ear for an audience, and publishing is the same. I’m excited to join a conversation that has been happening for a long time.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

I used to be a theatre teacher, immersed in Shakespeare. You can’t beat that kind of immersion – listening, teaching, speaking, all that repetition through the various senses. It wouldn’t need to be theatre, it could be intense friendships, open-mic nights at the Nuyorican Cafe, whatever seems worthwhile.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

Most of the writing I do takes place in a small, unheated shed, next to power tools, whiskey and a turkey fryer.

Erik Johnson holds a B.A. in Theater from Yale and an M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. A student-written theater piece he directed appeared in A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. Originally from Cleveland, he teaches in a school for homeless and runaway youth in Eugene, Oregon. This is his first poem appearing in a journal.

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