Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Ariana Brown

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about? Who would you love to collaborate with?


I’ve been reading a lot of teen fiction—the stuff I was into as a young girl. I’m trying to remember what drew me to stories in the first place. Of notable mention is Quinceanera Means Sweet Fifteen by Veronica Chambers, which is the only book I read as a girl in which the main character was Afrolatina. And I’ve been listening to both the Franklins: Kirk & Aretha.

Sasha Banks is an incredible writer and person; I want the world to know about her, to support her, my friend, my sister.

I would love to collaborate with Bocafloja, the afro-indigenous Mexican rapper. I also really want to work on some live performance stuff with my homegirl, my sister, my friend Loyce Gayo, who is a phenomenal singer and poet.


Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

Sasha Banks’ poem “Sasha Fells the Wildwood” & Sasha Banks’ poem “God Bless America.”

Is there anything in your work that people frequently misunderstand?

More times than I can count, biracial folks with one white parent approach me to let me know how my work affected them: that they “finally” see themselves represented, that my work speaks to them—which always feels strange to me because they cannot see or understand their proximity to whiteness. I did not grow up around white people and so I have no allegiance to them. My mother is a brown mestiza Mexican-American and my father was a Black American. Blackness and brownness are so incredibly interwoven in all of my experiences and poems that it is disrespectful to me to insist that folks with the advantage of having a white parent are the same as me. It’s crazy, too, to remember that “mixed” folks with one white parent are centered in all conversations about “mixed” race identity. I’m interested in de-centering whiteness at all times, including in my poems and in conversations about what it means to be “mixed” race, or multiracial.

My friend Jacqui Germain once tweeted, “The sharper our analysis, the quicker we get free,” and I feel like that applies here. Yes, there are some similarities between multiracial identities, but we are not all the same, and it’s crucial that we understand where our similarities end so that we can actually figure out how to show up for each other when the most vulnerable among us are being oppressed: that’s real solidarity.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Who is your audience? Decide who you are writing for, and don’t let it be white people, or rich people, unless you need to impress them to steal their resources and redistribute them to your people, ‘cause they don’t love you and wouldn’t dream of learning how.

Can you share work from other media that either inspired or is in conversation with your piece in Bettering American?

Sure. The original version of my poem, “Volver, Volver,” is a three-minute performed poem of the same title, which I wrote a year before, as part of the 2015 UT Austin Spitshine poetry slam team which competed at CUPSI:

When I went back to revise the poem, I realized I wanted to include lyrics from the song “Volver, Volver.” All old mariachi songs, like most old gospel songs, are music of the people; no song has an original singer- these are just songs that everybody knows. However, the mariachi singer to popularize “Volver, Volver” on a national scale in Mexico was Vicente Fernandez. You can listen to his “Volver, Volver” rendition here. It’s the one my mom likes the best.


Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them?



ARIANA BROWN is an Afromexicana poet from San Antonio, Texas, with a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies from UT Austin. She is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets Prizes and a 2014 collegiate national poetry slam champion. An alum of Brave New Voices, Ariana’s work has been featured in PBS, Huffington Post, Blavity, For Harriet, and Remezcla. Ariana, who has been dubbed a “part-time curandera,” has performed across the US at venues such as the San Antonio Guadalupe Theater, University of California – Santa Cruz, Tucson Poetry Festival, and the San Francisco Opera Theatre. When she is not onstage, she is probably eating an avocado, listening to the Kumbia Kings, or validating black girl rage in all its miraculous forms. Her work is published or forthcoming in Nepantla, Muzzle, African Voices, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and ¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets from Arte Público Press. She is currently earning an MFA in Poetry at the University of Pittsburgh.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.