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Adrian Matejka

The Big Smoke

Penguin Books

2014 Fiction

Adrian Matejka was born Germany in the town of Nuremberg. He grew up, partly in public housing, in California and Indiana. A graduate of Indiana University, Matejka earned an M FA from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His first collection of poems, The Devil’s Garden, received the 2002 New York / New England Award from Alice James Books. His second collection, Mixology, won the 2008 National Poetry Series and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 2010, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner. He teaches creative writing at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he lives with his wife, the poet Stacey Lynn Brown, and their daughter.

The Big Smoke is a marvelous, nuanced, polyphonic exploration of the life of boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight world champion. Matejka mimics some of the cadence and physicality of boxing in this collection – particularly in the 14-line sonnets. A fan of the sport, Matejka was moved by this son of emancipated slaves – born in Texas just 13 years after the end of the Civil War – who loved Shakespeare, Verdi’s operas, travel abroad and a series of white women. Using various voices and multiple poetic forms, Matejka considers the myth, the man and those around him. One – Carefree as a Plantation Darky in Watermelon Time -- takes its title from a description of Johnson in the Batimore American. Johnson died in 1946, and The Big Smoke follows him through 1912 in 52 poems. Matejka plans a second volume on the last section of the boxer’s life.

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Blog Posts about Adrian Matejka

Cleveland-Area Students Get A Dose Of Anisfield-Wolf Poetry, Craft Their Own Verses (Listen In!)

Students from two Cleveland-area schools and one community center gathered for a poetry slam this April. Students from two Cleveland-area schools and one community center gathered for a poetry slam this April.National Poetry Month, celebrated every April for the past 20 years, became a little less abstract for Cleveland students this spring. This year the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards embedded local graduate students in two Cleveland-area elementary schools and a community center for an eight-week poetry residency.  Ryan Lind, Ali McClain, Karly Milvet, and Amanda Stovicek -- all students in the NEOMFA creative writing consortium -- drew inspiration... Read More →

READ: Adrian Matejka's New Jean-Michel Basquiat-Inspired Poem, "& Later,"

trumpet Take a look at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mesmerizing 1984 painting “Trumpet.” It inspired a new poem from Adrian Matejka that he calls “& Later,” Matejka won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award last year for “The Big Smoke,” his Jack Johnson-infused collection. Now the Indiana University professor is putting together a new book called “Collectable Blacks.” “I get caught up easily in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings, especially his work focusing on boxers and jazz,” Matejka said. “His painting from 1984, ‘Trumpet,... Read More →

VIDEO: Adrian Matejka On Winning The 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award For Poetry

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 11.56.27 AM Adrian Matejka's “The Big Smoke” is a nuanced, polyphonic book that explores the life of boxer Jack Johnson, the first African- American heavyweight world champion. A fan of the sport, Matejka was moved by this son of emancipated slaves – born in Texas just 13 years after the end of the Civil War – who loved Shakespeare, Verdi’s operas, travel abroad and a series of white women. The Big Smoke follows Johnson until 1912 in 52 poems. Matejka spent eight years researching and writing this book. He teaches at Indiana University in... Read More →

Adrian Matejka's Poetry Hits The Canvas At Cleveland's Old Angle Boxing Gym

Screen shot 2015-05-05 at 11.57.27 AM Adrian Matejka reads from The Big Smoke at Cleveland's Old Angle boxing gym, September 10 | Photo Credit: Ryan Brady-Toomey Faded fight posters on the walls at Cleveland's Old Angle boxing gym served as an authentic backdrop for the poetry of Adrian Matejka, 2014 winner of an Anisfield-Wolf book award. Matejka's 52-poem collection, "The Big Smoke," centers on Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion, who earned the crown in 1908. Gym owner Gary Horwitz rearranged his gym and his week to host. Dave Lucas, a founder of the... Read More →

Poet Adrian Matejka Comes To Cleveland Boxing Gym For "The Big Smoke" Reading

Matejka-11 Poet Adrian Matejka mixed his love of boxing with his love of literature to produce “The Big Smoke,” 52 poems that center on Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion. The collection won this year’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. On September 10, Matejka will bring his words to the Cleveland canvas of the Old Angle Boxing Gym while boxer Roberto Cruz, 11, and Corey Gregory, 42, will each demonstrate the sweet science in separate demonstration bouts. We are... Read More →

Explore 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Award Winning Titles At Cleveland Public Library's Brown Bag Book Club

Matejka-2014 On the cusp of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony, join awards manager Karen R. Long for a personal introduction to the titles being honored this year. Long will offer a speed date with each book, and an introduction to the Lifetime Achievement winners on Wednesday, September 3 at noon. Her presentation will kick off this fall’s Brown Bag Book Club at the Cleveland Public Library downtown. In subsequent weeks, the series will then break out to examine each of the 2014 award-winning books in turn. Beginning Wednesday, September 10... Read More →