Poet Adrian Matejka to speak at the Efroymson Creative Writing Reading Series

By Amaris Edwards, Staff Reporter

Elias Gonzalez

While some spent the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic baking or binging TV shows, poet Adrian Matejka spent his lockdown writing his recent book “Somebody Else Sold the World,” estimating that he wrote 95% of the book during the first few months of the pandemic.

“At first, when it seemed like we’re gonna be home for a couple of weeks … we [Matejka and his wife] spent that two weeks going hard,” Matejka said. “Then it became clear this wasn’t a fun thing, that this was real, and people were dying and we had to rethink everything.”

Matejka will speak about his book at the 2022-2023 Efroymson Creative Writing Reading Series, which will begin Thursday and run through April 20. Hosted by the English and Creative Writing Department, the series “attracts prestigious, award-winning fiction writers, poets and nonfiction writers who perform, engage and educate on a myriad of topics and traditions.”

The series kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at the Hokin Gallery at 623 S. Wabash, Room 109 with Matejka, an editor for Poetry Magazine, as the featured speaker.

Born in Nuremberg, Germany as part of a military family, Matejka grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Indiana University Bloomington and the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

With an array of books under his belt, Matejka is recognized as a finalist for both the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the 2013 National Book Award for “The Big Smoke.”

The collection of poems published in May 2013 explores the legacy of American boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson was the child of emancipated slaves, and fought the violent segregation of Jim Crow, overcoming it by challenging white boxers and white America to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion.

His most recent collection of poems titled, “Somebody Else Sold the World,” was a finalist for the 2022 Rilke Prize, and Matejka is currently anticipating the release of his first graphic novel “Last On His Feet,” which will be published in 2023.

This will not be the writer’s first visit to Columbia though. Matejka said he was on the campus about eight years ago when he did a reading with Matthew Shenoda, the previous dean of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“[Shenoda] and I did an event together, and it was a real joy,” Matejka said. “I got to spend time with the creative writing students, and I was so impressed by the community of writers and artists on the campus … so I was really excited to get to come back and do something again.”

Matejka said that at the event, he will be reading from his recent book “Somebody Else Sold the World” and then will be discussing his new role as the editor of Poetry Magazine.

According to Matejka’s website, “Somebody Else Sold the World,” published in July 2021, “uses past and future touchstones like pop songs, love notes and imaginary gossip” to focus on the ways we exist in an “uncontrollable world.”

“The poet Pablo Neruda said that ‘a good poet can write a good poem about anything,’ and I try to embrace that idea,” Matejka said. “I try to embrace the idea that if we look at it closely enough, there’s a poem there waiting for us to find it.”

Ankita Sadarjoshi, an MFA student in the creative writing program, will be introducing Matejka at the event.

Sadarjoshi said before the start of the Fall 2022 semester, the English and Creative Writing Department sent out an email announcing that Matejka would be reading at the college.

When she received the email, Sadarjoshi said she had familiarized herself with Matejka after his work had been assigned in her Open Genre Workshop class.

“I was like, no, no, no, the way I have to do this,” Sadarjoshi said. “Like please let me jump on this train.”

Sadarjoshi said when reading “The Big Smoke,” Matejka’s 2013 poetry collection, she felt as if she were watching a movie on the pages.

“[With] 30 pages left of the whole manuscript, I realized that I felt like I had been reading Jack Johnson and not Adrian Matejka,” Sadarjoshi said. “That is the extent to which Adrian, in my opinion, mastered the use of reclamation in terms of first-person narrative in terms of history.”

Sadarjoshi said she is intrigued to ask Matejka at the event if it was difficult to surrender himself to such a complicated narrative when writing “The Big Smoke.”

“Because the text has such a mix up of love and violence, innocence and dirt,” Sadarjoshi said. “If I had a moment to pick his brain, it would be to ask him ‘how does one take care of themselves as a writer when embarking on such a complicated project?’”