2016 National Book Award Longlist, Poetry
National Book Foundation: Who did you write this book for?
Monica Youn: Since Blackacre was published, women have approached me at readings to share their own stories of infertility—of miscarriages, failed IVFs, the incremental dwindling of hopes. Often these women have tears in their eyes, but still they always whisper—ashamed, as they wouldn’t feel ashamed of other misfortunes. So much shame surrounds infertility, so many levels of alienation. Alienation from their own “failed” bodies. Alienation from their own “womanhood,” in a culture that casts infertile women as sexless, unwholesome: bitter spinsters, evil stepmothers. Alienation from their own life choices, from career paths that delayed motherhood, from relationship choices not to “settle.” I didn’t dedicate Blackacre to anyone—it seemed too dark a book for a dedication, an effort to exorcise my own alienation. But if I could dedicate the book now, I would dedicate it to those women, and all women who have been subject to similar shame.
ABOUT THE BOOK
First coined in 1628, the term “blackacre” is a legal fiction, a hypothetical estate. It is also a password among lawyers marking one’s initiation into a centuries-old tradition of legal indoctrination. Monica Youn’s fascinating, multifaceted new collection, Blackacre, uses the term to suggest landscape, legacy, what is allotted to each of us—a tract of land, a work of art, a heritage, a body, a destiny. What are the limits of the imagination’s ability to transform what is given? On any particular acre, can we plant a garden? Found a city? Unearth a treasure? Build a home? Youn brings her lawyerly intelligence and lyric gifts to bear on questions of fertility and barrenness as she attempts to understand her own desire—her own struggle—to conceive a child. Where the shape-making mind encounters unalterable fact, Blackacre explores new territories of art, meaning, and feeling.
About the Author
Monica Youn is the author of two previous collections, Ignatz, which was a Finalist for the National Book Award in 2010, and Barter. She is also a former lawyer who currently teaches writing at Princeton University and in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College.