Adrian Matejka is the author of three poetry collections: The Devil’s Garden, Mixology, which was a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series, and The Big Smoke, forthcoming from Penguin in 2013. He is 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 Poetry among other journals and anthologies. He is a visiting writer at Indiana University, Bloomington and co-directs the River Styx Reading Series.
On this podcast, Adrian Matejka reads “Battle Royale,” “Prizefighter,” and “Fisticuffs” from his new collection, The Big Smoke, which examines the history and mythology of the first African-American heavyweight world champion, Jack Johnson (1878-1946).
Johnson was a true American creation, and Matejka’s collection follows the prizefighter’s journey from child of emancipated slaves to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he loved. Matejka’s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Jack Johnson’s complicated legacy, one that often mis-remembers the magnetic man behind the myth.