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The Wheeling Poetry Series presents: Joy Priest

February 27, 2024
12:00pm - 1:00pm

The Wheeling Poetry Series presents: Joy Priest

Poet Joy Priest is the author of Horsepower (Pitt Poetry Series), winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Winner of the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review, her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, and The Nation, and in anthologies such as What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People. Priest is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and is currently the Assistant Professor of African American/African Diaspora Poetry in the MFA Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Curator of Community Programs & Praxis for the Center of African American Poetry & Poetics there. Website:

The Wheeling Poetry Series is curated by West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman.

Speaker Bio:

Joy Priest is a writer from Louisville, KY. Her first book, HORSEPOWER (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. She is the recipient of the 2020 Kunitz Prize and her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, APR, The Atlantic, Poetry Northwest, and Poets & Writers, among others. She is currently a doctoral student in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

Featured Book:

Priest’s debut collection, Horsepower, is a cinematic escape narrative that radically envisions a daughter’s waywardness as aspirational. Across the book’s three sequences, we find the black-girl speaker in the midst of a self-imposed exile, going back in memory to explore her younger self—a mixed-race child being raised by her white supremacist grandfather in the shadow of Churchill Downs, Kentucky’s world-famous horseracing track—before arriving in a state of self-awareness to confront the personal and political landscape of a harshly segregated Louisville. Out of a space that is at once southern and urban, violent and beautiful, racially-charged and working-class, she attempts to transcend her social and economic circumstances. Across the collection, Priest writes a horse that acts as a metaphysical engine of flight, showing us how to throw off the harness and sustain wildness. Unlike the traditional Bildungsroman, Priest presents a non-linear narrative in which the speaker lacks the freedom to come of age naively in the urban South, and must instead, from the beginning, possess the wisdom of “the horses & their restless minds.”


"In many ways, this book reads as a spell of sorts, an act of creation in the midst of dark memories, collecting language, people, and moments to create a new self or story. " ~Gasher

"Horsepower begins with the chasm between the speaker’s parents and their communities, but by the end of the collection, the poems have revved and powered their way across the rift and leave us with this vital map of their journey. "~The Bind

"Priest further illuminates what others might be still be too sheltered and comfortable to see. Her keen eye never fails to capture the nuances of situations that on the surface appear to be insignificant, but that once unraveled, reveal realities we can learn from. The personal always has the chance to be universal, and the more you dive into the memory of these poems in Horsepower, the more you arrive at an understanding that will change you as a reader and as a person for the better. " ~ Heavy Feather Review

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