Meet the Authors: Kelly Grace Thomas

Interview conducted by American Literary Review Editors

Kelly Grace Thomas  is the author of the poetry collection Boat Burnedout from YesYes Books. Her poem “Life/Boat” appeared in our Spring 2018 issue. Kelly will be signing her poetry collection, Boat Burned, at AWP at the ALR table (T1353) on Thursday from 12-1pm. We asked Kelly a few questions in anticipation of meeting her in person at AWP.

ALR: What was the last book you read, in any genre, that taught you something new about your craft as a poet?

Kelly Grace Thomas: I recently read Danez Smith’s Homie and learned so much about craft and celebration from it. The way they innovate language, how they use surprise so strategically, could be a year-long course. I love their unexpected metonymy and portmanteau, and all the ways language can shock and experiment while still being grounded. 

But most of all, I loved the humor and celebration in this collection. My work has a lot of sadness, so while reading Homie I was taking notes on how humor and lightness was used as a touchstone, even during heavier poems. 

ALR: What kinds of research feed your creative process—music, movies, non-literary texts, archival work, etc?

KGT: So many different things. In all honesty I think nature inspires it most. I feel like poems are patient children that follow me around, and it isn’t until I am alone in nature, looking at the world, that I hear their voices.  I also find that movies and television really feed the world building muscle of poems. I love shows like Umbrella Academy and the Watchmen. Movies also feed my creative self. I am a huge fan of A24 and the films they make. I went to Sundance this year because the nonprofit I work for, Get Lit-Words Ignite, made a film called Summertime with Carlos Lopez Estrada that features the voices of 27 youth poets. Many who I have taught. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. 

ALR: Could you talk about what you’re currently working on?

KGT: I’m currently working on a second collection that centers around the complications of womanhood, and growing older, especially in terms of fertility. I got engaged at 36 and married at 37. My husband and I hoped to start a family and have had no success.. We went to the doctors. Got all the tests. Infertility has been the most heartbreaking thing I have ever experienced. It is something I’m reminded of everyday as life continues to remake itself around me. The poems I’m working on, describe this experience, and reach towards understanding, acceptance. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, it is something I dreamed of. And of course, there are many ways to be a mother, but I  expected a certain love, a certain life, this collection explores what happens when you are told you might not ever have that.

ALR: What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ for Boat Burned?

KGT: When you “burn your boats,” there is no going back. Moving forward is the only choice. Boat Burned, my debut collection from YesYes Books, examines the metaphor of femininity as boat, and addresses the intergenerational lies women are fed and feed themselves. But even more than that, this collection is about blazing the beliefs that limit you. It’s about burning down what doesn’t serve you and becoming something better, brighter.

Kelly Grace is the winner of the 2017 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle, 2018 finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award and multiple pushcart prize nominee. Her first full-length collection, Boat Burned, will release with YesYes Books in January 2020. Kelly’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: Best New Poets 2019, Los Angeles Review, Redivider, Nashville Review, Muzzle, DIAGRAM, and more. Kelly currently works to bring poetry to underserved youth as the Director of Education and Pedagogy for Get Lit-Words Ignite. Kelly is a three-time poetry slam championship coach and the co-author of Words Ignite: Explore, Write and Perform, Classic and Spoken Word Poetry (Literary Riot), currently taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Kelly has received fellowships from Tin House Winter Workshop, Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and the Kenyon Review Young Writers. Kelly and her sister, Kat Thomas, won Best Feature Length Screenplay at the Portland Comedy Film Festival for their romantic comedy, Magic Little Pills. Kelly lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Omid, and is currently working on her debut novel, a YA thriller, titled Only 10.001.