Nathaniel Mackey was born in Miami, Florida, in 1947. He is the author of several books of fiction of “exquisite rhythmic lyricism” (Bookforum), poetry, and criticism and has received many awards for his work, including the National Book Award in poetry for Splay Anthem, the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society, the Bollingen Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Mackey is the Reynolds Price Professor of English at Duke University.
Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences in his exploration of how language can be infused and informed by music. In a 2006 interview with Bill Forman forMetroActivemagazine, Mackey addressed the relationship he seeks between music and his own poetry: “I try to cultivate the music of language, which is not just sounds. It’s also meaning and implication. It’s also nuance. It’s also a kind of angular suggestion.”
Mackey is the author of numerous books of poetry, includingNod House(2011), the National Book Award-winningSplay Anthem(2006),Whatsaid Serif(1998), andEroding Witness(1985), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series. He has published several book-length installments of his ongoing prose work,From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, beginning withBedouin Hornbookin 1986. David Hajdu described the prose project as “not simply writing about jazz, but writing as jazz” in a 2008New York Times Book Reviewpiece on the fourth volume in Mackey’s series,Bass Cathedral(2007). Hajdu characterized the movement of language in the volumes as “kinetic and also contemplative, elegiac and mercurial, sometimes volatile.” The first three volumes of Mackey’s series were published together by New Directions in 2010. A recording of Mackey’s workStrick: Song of the Andoumboulou 16-25was released in 1995 by Spoken Engine Company, with musical accompaniment by Royal Hartigan and Hafez Modirzadeh.
Mackey coedited Moment’s Notice(1993) with Art Lange, and American Poetry: The Twentieth Century(2000) with Robert Hass, John Hollander, Carolyn Kizer, and Marjorie Perloff. Mackey has broadcast jazz and world music as a DJ on local noncommercial radio since the late 1970s, an endeavor he describes as similar to that of bringing together journal issues during his long tenure as the editor ofHambone magazine: “You segue, you juxtapose, you mix,” he noted in theMetroActive interview. Mackey’s critical work includesDiscrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing(1993) andParacritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews(2005). His many honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts; the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize; and the Stephen Henderson Award from the African American Literature and Culture Society; the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation; and the 2015 Bollingen Prize from Yale University. From 2001 to 2007, he served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Mackey taught for many years at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is currently the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.
Bass Cathedral Discography and Mix