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Nathaniel Mackey
Nathaniel Mcakey

2006 National Book Award winner for poetry

NYS Writers Institute, October 18, 2007
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Standish Room, Science Library

8:00 p.m. Reading | Assmebly Hall, Campus Center


Nathaniel Mackey, 2006 National Book Award winner for poetry for “Splay Anthem”(2006), leading authority on musical influences in African American poetry, to read from his work on Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, UAlbany uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m. he will present an informal seminar in the Standish Room, Science Library, uptown campus. The events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute and are free and open to the public.


Nathaniel Mackey, major American poet, as well as a novelist and critical theorist, received the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry for “Splay Anthem”(2006), an epic work about a lost tribe in “the imperial, flailing republic of Nub the United States has become, the shrunken place the earth has become, planet Nub.” The collection draws on West African folklore and American Modernist poetics, and partakes of the rhythms and structures of two major musical traditions: West African ensemble music and American jazz. “The Nation” called it, “enchanting and haunting, provocative and unsettling.” “The Library Journal” reviewer chose it as one of the 10 Best Poetry Books of 2006.

A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Mackey is a coeditor of the Library of America’s “American Poetry: The Twentieth Century”(2000),and coeditor of the influential anthology, “Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose”(1993). He also serves as Professor of Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and longtime host of the popular world music radio program “Tanganyika Strut,” on Public Radio station KUSP. He is widely regarded as a leading authority on the reciprocal impacts of African and African-American music and literature. Writing in the “Dictionary of Literary Biography,” Mark Scroggins said that Mackey’s work “continually circles around the question of how one might use language to describe music, and the spiritual reality to which music gives one access.”

Mackey’s poetry and prose find inspiration in the cultures, mythologies and musical forms of various West African peoples, as well as ancient Egyptian texts, the Koran, Bedouin traditions, and African American music and history. His poetry collections and novels frequently constitute installments in larger, ongoing, open-ended literary works. Much of his poetry is integral to two epic series known collectively as “Song of the Andoumboulou” and “mu,” portions of which have been appearing over the course of the last two decades. The new book, “Splay Anthem,” presents important new contributions to both of these larger works. The “Publishers Weekly” reviewer said, “The mysterious, even hermetic, new verse extends both of Mackey’s epics, even merging them, so that they form one enormous text describing a mystical quest.”

Earlier poetry collections include “Whatsaid Serif” (1998), “Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20” (1994), “School of Udhra” (1993), “Eroding Witness” (1985), “Septet for the End of Time” (1983), and “Four for Trane” (1978). Writing in “Black Issues in Higher Education” Lenard D. Moore called “Whatsaid Serif,” “a testament to the magic, possibilities, and audacity of exceedingly noteworthy poetry.”

Mackey’s novels form part of the ongoing cycle, “From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate,” about the adventures of a jazz-and-poetry ensemble called the Mystic Horn Society. The novels include “Atet, A.D.” (2001), “Djbot Baghostus’s Run” (1993) and “Bedouin Hornbook” (1986).  “Publisher’s Weekly” said that “Atet, A.D.” “has all the charged verve of Henry James encountering Charlie Parker’s Ko-Ko and perfectly transcribing every note and nuance.”

In the spring of 2000, Mackey received the unusual honor of having an entire issue of “Callaloo,” the premier literary journal of the African diaspora, devoted to his work.

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.