Donika Kelly: What It’s Like on the Other Side of Writing Trauma
This Week from the Thresholds Podcast with Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks to Donika Kelly, author of the new poetry collection The Renunciations, about an event in her twenties that opened the way for a radically different relationship with herself, building a life with her own wants and needs at the center. They also talked about Western films, therapy, the canon of trauma narratives, and how she thinks about using her work to interrogate the inner lives of men like her father, who do great harm.
From the episode:
Donika Kelly: It’s a hard question for me to answer because [writing the book] doesn’t change anything that happened. And it didn’t actually change my relationship to the trauma. Except that working on it, bringing it into the light, thinking about it is something that I could share with other people and maybe they would feel less alone, because that’s what similar work has done for me. But, you know, I live with the memories. They haven’t gone anywhere. They’re not as scary as they were. But I feel like that’s mostly therapy, honestly. I mean, the writing has helped, but I do think therapy has done a lot of work there to help me articulate some of what has felt so damaging, and to think about the ways I can take care of myself now, the ways that I do take care of myself now. And the writing was a way of moving through a process of investigation.
Donika Kelly is the author of THE RENUNCIATIONS (Graywolf 2021) and BESTIARY (Graywolf). BESTIARY is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The collection was also long listed for the National Book Award, and was a finalist for a Publishing Triangle Award and a Lambda Literary Award. A Cave Canem graduate fellow and member of the collective Poets at the End of the World, Donika has also received a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a summer workshop fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic online, The Paris Review, and Foglifter. She currently lives in Iowa City and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches creative writing.