Jenny Johnson

Alumna, 1996

Jenny Johnson attended the Workshop in poetry in 1996, joined the residential staff as a teacher and counselor from 1999-2000, served as Head Counselor in 2001, and worked on the Administrative Team from 2003-2009.

Where are you living and what brought you there? Where are you working and what do you enjoy about it?

I love to write, teach, and collaborate with other creative folks and critical thinkers. Fortunately, I am able to do all of the above in Pittsburgh, where I have lived since 2009. Currently, I am a Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach courses in writing, composition, and gender studies.

What do you find yourself most often reading/listening to lately and why?

I have been thinking a lot lately about what Gerard Manley Hopkins called inscape, the singular essence of things in the natural world that leaves its mark on our senses when we look at it closely. So besides poetry, I have also been reading Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris and Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. A recent favorite book of poems is Bringing the Shovel Down by Ross Gay. Two graphic novels that I highly recommend are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. I also love to have my mind exercised by bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde.

What are you working on right now and what does it represent in the larger body of your artistic accomplishments?

My poems can be found in New England Review, Blackbird, Waxwing, and elsewhere. My sonnet crown “Aria” won the Beloit Poetry Journal’s Chad Walsh Prize, and then went on to be published in Best American Poetry 2012. In 2013, I was honored to be one of 55 poets included in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, the first anthology of its kind.

How would you characterize the influence of your YWW experience in your life?

It changed my life! Growing up in small town Virginia, I passed time in high school (probably much like you) scribbling things down in a notebook, but it wasn’t until I attended YWW that I called myself a poet, because at the workshop I was taken seriously as a poet and that made all the difference.

YWW also taught me everything I know about community. Writing is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely business. I am so grateful to have so many YWW alumni in my life inspiring me daily.

What’s the best advice you can give a Young Writer (in general or in your specific genre)?

Get to know as many people as possible that are amazing and different from you. If you don’t know how to connect with someone right away, say hello again. Maybe you haven’t asked them the right questions yet!

Take risks in your writing, especially when you feel yourself feeling resistant. The good stuff is often the hardest stuff to get down on the page.

Where can we find you online?

Links to publications/work online: www.jennyjohnsonpoet.com