Catching Up with Michael Dowdy

Where can we read some of your recent work? 

I have a recent-ish collection of poems, Urbilly, and a recent-ish critical anthology that I coedited with Claudia Rankine, Poetics of Social Engagement. Most recently, I’ve been writing lyric essays, including this one in Waccamaw called “The Night After Newtown” (content warning: gun violence). 

What are you reading right now? 

At the beginning of the pandemic, back in the spring, I had a hard time reading anything. By mid summer, I’m not sure how or why, I was reading more voraciously than I had in years. Since then, I’ve been trying to read promiscuously, but I’ve been gravitating toward prose that combines reportage and personal writing. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans is one of the most important books I’ve read in many years, for its style as much as its stories. She rejects “the drag of a journalist” while still being “rooted in careful reporting.” This approach allows her to write with great care (and a give-no-fucks attitude regarding liberal niceties) about the complex lives of undocumented immigrants. I also found that I very much needed to have read Astra Taylor’s Democracy May Not Exist But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone. Taylor didn’t alleviate my dread, but her book theorizes how some key historical dimensions of democratic self-rule are fundamental to radical social and economic change. I needed to be reminded of that. And I can’t miss the chance to plug some Latinx poets: Marcelo Hernández Castillo’s Children of the Land is a poet’s memoir of living without papers between Jalisco, Mexico and California and Michigan; Deborah Paredez’s Year of the Dog is an account of the U.S. War in Vietnam, full of revelatory word play and historical conjunctions; and Francisco Aragón’s After Rubén is a wide-ranging exploration of a poet’s inheritances, from the Nicaraguan modernista Rubén Darío to contemporary Latinx poets such as Juan Felipe Herrera (full disclosure: I wrote the foreword to After Rubén). 

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a book of lyric essays circulating around questions of parenting and childing when the near and planetary futures are in doubt. My essay “South Padre Island,” which was published in Scalawag, dramatizes some of these questions.


Michael Dowdy’s books include a collection of poems Urbilly (Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award); a study of Latinx poetry, Broken Souths (University of Arizona Press); and, as coeditor with Claudia Rankine, a critical anthology, Poetics of Social Engagement (Wesleyan University Press). He teaches at the University of South Carolina.    

Twitter: @dowdymc