Meet the Authors: Maya Phillips

Interview conducted by American Literary Review Editors

Maya Phillips is the author of the poetry collection Erouout from Four Way Books. Her poem “Poem Ending With a Scene of a Woman Alone” appeared in our Fall 2018 issue. Maya will be signing her poetry collection, Erou, at AWP at the ALR table (T1353) on Saturday from 1-2pm. We asked Maya 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?

Maya Phillips: Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. I had read bits and pieces of it but finally sat down to read it in full a few weeks ago. I was intrigued by the form—this is a poetry collection, but it comes with a dramatis personae, like in a play, and is illustrated with figures depicting sign language. And the narrative itself is highly controlled and reads as a fable. But what strikes me in Kaminsky’s work on a more micro level is the sense of romance and existential largeness with which he treats his metaphors. There’s a sense of searching for meaning, questioning our most human impulses, in his work. Even as he relishes in the small, quiet moments of someone bathing or combing her hair in his poems, there’s something larger, almost celestial in each small act of existence. Like he says, “What is silence? Something of the sky in us.”

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

MP: Most of my inspirations do tend to come from other literary texts, and also visual art. As a theater critic, I’m also inspired by plays, I think in the way I think about character and voice. Wikipedia wormholes are helpful too, but sometimes I need to drag myself back out, because I’ll have gotten too far away from my original intention.

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

MP: Lately I’ve mostly been focusing on my journalism work, but I have been very slowly working toward what will be my next manuscript, which will have poems about absence and disappearance and my own anxieties. In a sense it will recall some of the work I did in my first book, thinking about loss, but here I hope to consider the idea of absence not in the context of a personal grief but as something that, even when it causes pain or confusion, is alluring, mysterious, almost magic. I’m speaking in pretty vague terms here, but I have this idea in my head that if I speak too much about a project in progress that I’ll jinx it, so I’ll just stop there!

ALR: What’s your ‘elevator pitch’ for Erou?

MP: Erou is about family and grief but also about the mythologies that we create in our lives, about ourselves, and about the ones we love. It’s for anyone who has experienced loss or just a complicated relationship with a close one and understands the complicated work of resolving the whole of a person—all the good and the bad—in one’s mind. And of course it’s for anyone who loves mythology and stories. At its root, Erou is also about the stories we tell—it’s the story I’m telling about my father and my family and how I’ve chosen to re-create them, and I think that can be relatable to a lot of people.

Maya Phillips was born and raised in New York. Maya received her BFA in writing, literature, and publishing with a concentration in poetry from Emerson College and her MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. Her poetry has appeared in American Literary Review, At Length, BOAAT, Ghost Proposal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Vinyl, The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and her arts & entertainment journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, Mashable, Slate, The Week, American Theatre, and more. She is the author of the poetry collection Erou (Four Way Books, 2019), which is a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award. A former content editor & producer at the Academy of American Poets, Maya currently works as a web producer at The New Yorker and as a freelance writer. Starting in June 2020, she will be the inaugural arts critic fellow at the New York Times. She lives in Brooklyn.