Mahogany L. Browne is a renowned poet, writer and activist who has become the first poet-in-residence at the prestigious Lincoln Center in New York City. Browne has given much of her life to New York City after working in the NYC public school system for more than 13 years, and expanding her influence in the literary and poetry world by writing several books, including two new upcoming ones.
Browne is a dedicated activist and abolitionist, creating conversations and opportunities for her community to speak and learn about mass incarceration and the effects it has on society. In this interview, she talks about her Lincoln Center residency and her inner relationship to her poetry and writing.
AmNews: Talk a bit about your journey of becoming the first poet-in-residence at Lincoln Center.
Mahogany L. Browne: I was approached by Jordana Leigh of Lincoln Center about an opportunity to think of ways to engage the community in New York City at large with the campus and various intersections of my own practice. She was looking for a season of programming and was open to ideas of what that would look like for me.
I kind of designed a dream. The dream looked like young poets, it looked like children’s literature authors, performance artists, installations, book sales, people dancing and abolitionists. I’m really excited to see what happens. All of it is like a ball of yarn, everything is interconnected.
AmNews: So, it’s kind of like a Mahogany L. Browne heaven?
Browne: Exactly. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I do everything. I’m a poet and a writer and the way I move through the world is that I recognize my art is informed by many various parts. My father was incarcerated the majority of my life, he still is. So mass incarceration is a topic that keeps coming back to me. It is an unending cycle and through poetry, I have learned the power of forgiveness; I can start asking for policy change. I have compassion and empathy for those who are trying to re-enter this world. Through poetry, education has been a large part. I taught in the New York City school system for over 13 years, and that was no mistake.
I came to poetry in my junior year of high school, and education became an important part of my life as a poet because I wanted to remind the young people that their stories, however they chose to tell them, were necessary and valid.
AmNews: How do you balance all of the different aspects of your work internally?
Browne: I learned from my friend, Idrissa Simmonds, who I was able to bring in the fold to do an incredible panel on racial equity in the classroom and the community, who told me something that I have held onto forever. She said that there is no balance. The idea is not that you’re balancing, but that you are being present to whatever the moment requires of you. That alone gave me permission to be soft, to be vulnerable, to need a break, to not work myself to the point of exhaustion and to the point where I no longer have passion for the project.
I’m learning every day that perfection is never going to be my ministry. My excitement and the way in which I show up is that I will be able to figure it out, even if it’s a mistake. That’s a lesson learned. But I just create the blueprint through the footprint.
AmNews: What are some other literary projects you are working on?
Browne: I have two books coming. One is my second young adult novel, “Vinyl Moon,” and in September my full-length book of poems, “I Remember Death By Its Proximity to What I Love.”
I just finished the final edits of “Vinyl Moon” in January. It’s about a young girl who had a traumatic experience and tries to regain her footing after that experience. She tries not to let that experience define who she is. It’s also a love letter to public schools. It’s a nod to my investment into education, and it explores friendship circles. Friendship is at the center. We never really give enough space for those conversations to happen. It’s always romantic relationships that are put on this pedestal, and it makes it seem like that’s the only way that intimacy occurs. But friendships are probably the most intimate. You can be your higher self and you’re able to figure what you like and don’t like and get to see who you are in conversation with others. So it’s a love letter to all of those things, and it’s about a young feminist coming back into her own. She knows who she is, it’s just about finding herself again after a traumatic moment.
“I Remember Death By Its Proximity to What I Love” is a long-form poem of me just investigating the impact of mass incarceration on women and children, specifically myself and my own life. My father has been in prison all my life. I’m trying to honor the complexity of the fear and the shame, and the desire to know who he is as a person, and recognizing that I see him in the way I move through the world. I’m looking at the ways this affects our homes and our neighborhoods, who we lose and who we become because of it.