Detroit native Tyehimba Jess’ first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” A Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, he received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a 2004-2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000 – 2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TEDxNashville Conference. His second collection, Olio, was recently released from Wave Books. Jess is an Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island.
Here he talks creamy grits, late-night pizza, and the plight of a Tabasco-only New York.
On his all-time favorite meal:
My all time favorite meal has always been – homemade grits and bacon. My mother would make grits and bacon in the morning and I was famous as a wee kid for running down the stairs yelling “Grits!” Grits was one of the first things I learned to cook as a kid, and as I progressed I learned how to add butter and salt in the boiling water to make it creamier. Then, later I learned about adding cheese to the mix and it was like another level of gritaliciousness.
As for the bacon, it’s usually quite well done and crispy enough to be crumbled into the grits. I come from the salty grits clan as opposed to the grits with sugar clan, and these days I prefer my grits with cheddar cheese and a healthy helping of black pepper. Also, organic, stone-ground grits are always a plus. I can also go for grits and fried chicken any day of the week.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
Usually my favorite meal of the day is enhanced by a sunset. I’m fortunate enough to have a porch on an upper floor these days, so getting the sunset is a lot easier.
On snacking while writing:
I usually do not snack while writing—unless I’m in one of my favorite diners and sipping on a cup of coffee and having perhaps some French Fries or a bowl of chili.
On his go-to late-night snack:
There’s an amazing pizzeria right around the corner from me that’s open until 10 pm—Luigi’s Pizza—and they have some of the best slices in Brooklyn. Great family atmosphere, and crisp, delicious pizza.
On his food quirks:
I was raised with a serious milk allergy, so I grew up eating all my cereal with water. I can drink milk now that I’m grown but I still eat cereal with water, like when I have my occasional splurge on Capt’n Crunch with Crunchberries. I’ve also been known to bring my own container of Jane’s Krazy Mixed up Seasonings to the movies to put on my popcorn.
I’m probably going to have to start carrying my own bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce with me—for some reason, New York restaurants almost never have anything other than Tabasco sauce (which is too thin and sharp for my taste) for seasoning. I’ve been known to espouse the pleasures of Louisiana Hot Sauce to various wait staff and hosts, beseeching them to get with it and widen their seasoning beyond Tabasco. The crusade continues.
On his final meal request:
Probably I’d like to have some fried chicken as prepared by my lady, Kelly, a vegetarian who somehow prepares great chicken. Most likely with a view on the water. Lots of water. And waves.