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Gregory Pardlo

 03-29-2016

Poems - Bio - Essay - Reviews - Interviews - Reading
 
Gregory Pardlo
 
Written by Himself

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
                        ain't I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.

 

Attachment: Atlantic City Pimp

Left of the @ sign the email address
was ethnically gendered with the nonce
noun sistah, which, I have to confess,

I scoffed at, thinking it was from some self-
discovering student of mine, before realizing it was
my aunt who sent the jpeg from her cell

phone. My aunt who doesn't mind
a bit of shell if it means getting all the crabmeat,
who is known to only leave behind

enough of a tip to shame the wait staff
for their inattention. The subject line read:
"AC Pimp" as if her painted nails and belly laugh

made her expert in the fauna of pimps, a soul-stirred
savant of things cold-blooded. As if she could
divine an ivory handled Derringer holstered

at his breast icing the steel heart cognate
to the gun, that twin ventriloquist of tinder
and sulfur dust, that rhythmic and delicate

organ pumping like a fist that has a knack
for snake-eyes and the superfluity of bruises
that follow every spaghetti-strapped back-

talker's doubt. She must have thought
she'd reached her brother, my father, who harbors
like a gold molar a taste for robin egg and mauve

pocket squares, a flourish of trim, a hand-stitch,
lapels check striped and foreshortened
like tyrannosaurus arms and ostrich

print Stacy Adams to match. The modest,
feathered derby contrasting all those boas
festooning street lamps and mail boxes.

But my aunt is no mere expert.
"AC" may have been a random tag,
but that word "Pimp" bore the import

of all us do-wrong men. She was, in effect,
signifying--the kind of humor that waters
the eye, the doubletalk, the shadow dialect.

Like her spite-tinged smile at a bridal
shower, her patina of derision enlivened
the photo. My aunt, who refuses to settle

for a man less Christian than she is finds
everywhere despicable men. Hence the dozens
via email, the critique, like a razor inside

a roll of twenties, the currency
of our vengeance economy. Perhaps
there was an untroubled sea

just beyond the garish casinos behind him,
a stilt-walker or mime outside the frame,
a carnival and boardwalk where the horizon

would be, and a tour bus full of people waving.
Of all the images that might speak to something
inside her, this was the one she found worth saving.

 

Corrective Lenses: Creative Reading and (Recon)textual/ization

A text dropped in the brain's pail rattles the way astrophysicists say they can hear the birth of time tuning the salt rim of Saturn. For example, Finnegan's Wake. For example, horoscopes, and little notes folded into cookies. The Society of Prophetic Archeologists argues all arguments are subject to confirmation bias. In this course we will venerate the subjective mind, or rather, examine how subject/object share the fuzzy circumference of a lone spotlight beneath the proscenium arch. There is no reliable narrator. For example, tealeaves or cloudbursts in the shape of ladybirds. We will interrogate the cagey and shifting sign in order to coerce all its false confessions. We will learn to project our backslashes to snatch a suffix like the fake mustache of an incognito, impose parentheses to ironize our dependence on convention. Because there are no valid means of assessment students are encouraged to assign their own grade upon registration. Any book will do: phone, face, match, bank. We will set course across wastelands of difficult punchlines under bad signs to flush the comic truth like what? a flock of starlings? a dime bag ? while we pretend a grasp of subtleties as they spiral sparkshowers like a Chinese New Year, red, gold, red, gold, red, gold.

                                       -from Digest

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Gregory Pardlo's ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Digest​ was also shortlisted for the​ 2015 NAACP Image Award and was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors​ include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is also the author of Air Traffic, a memoir in essays forthcoming from Knopf. Pardlo joins the faculty of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden in the fall of 2016.  He lives with his family in Brooklyn.

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On Table Tennis and Poetry by Gregory Pardlo, first published as part of the "We Can Be Heroes" series at Los Angels Review of Books

Police arrested my best friend Nubie for sneaking out after curfew in April of 10th grade. His parents grounded him for the entire summer. I was insensible to social cues, and if not for The Nubian Prince, I was effectively friendless. Ipso facto, I was grounded, too, and decided, heedless of his mother’s disapproving looks, that he and I should serve our sentences jointly. Besides, I felt like I owed him the solid of keeping him company.

Each morning, I would ride over to Nubie’s to play table tennis until his mom got home from work. He could hear my Huffy Pro Thunder wheezing as I pedaled up his driveway sometime around nine in the morning; the garage door was yawning before I rang the bell. Neither of us was a very good player at the start of summer, but The Nubian improved quickly. I played tennis since I was seven, and tried in vain to scale the mechanics of my court game to fit the table. On the court I behaved temperamentally like John McEnroe, but table tennis gave my antics no quarter.

I suspect table tennis is what set me on the unlikely trajectory beyond the gravity of my parents’ influence, and toward poetry. It’s more conventional to blame hip-hop, I know, but I am so easily distracted that music ruins my concentration. If I overhear so much as a grainy samba beat sifting through the receiver when my wife is on hold with the bank, my mind goes dark and I begin snatching at notes in the air like they’re rungs on a dream ladder carrying me to Elysium. I’ve never been diagnosed, but the rambunctious gene is dominant in my family. Holiday dinners my aunt laces the collard greens with Ritalin, otherwise family gatherings start to look like the Chuck E. Cheese’s in Brooklyn after two families show up with conflicting reservations. How else in the midst of that chaos would I have acquired focus enough to pick a handful of words, without purpose, off the communal tongue?

One summer after I moved to New York I was a teacher’s aid for middle school students in the South Bronx who had been labeled as having emotional and behavioral “challenges.” At one point, one of the students marched around the room on desktops shouting profanities with the pomp of a French naval officer. No one seemed to notice. It made me so anxious I got the hiccups.

When I read the poems they’d all turned in I noticed that many of them had similar handwriting. Tiny lettering crowded against the lines as if the letters were whispering to each other. I was told this was an effect of the kids’ medication. It occurred to me that the density of their script might not signal diminished capacity or reticence. I imagined it being a proactive attempt to vacuum unnecessary elements out of the field of attention. The theory slowly setting up shop in my head like an ABBA song was that attention in a restless mind is optimized when the frame of concern excludes all non-essential data. Rather than let them get their ya-ya’s out wilding around the room, I decided to lead them in a group activity devoid of frill and fluff. My hope was also to make them conscious of their physical presence by focusing on the economy of motion. I wanted to put them, bodily, inside their own circumscribed fields of attention. With the model of table tennis in mind, I had the kids push desks together and we folded sheets of paper into triangular wads to play finger football. Not what you were expecting? Yeah, I tried to work something out that was more ping-pong-like, but all I could find was a blue rubber handball. That shit turned ugly real fast.

I’ve also noticed a correlation between literary ambition and table tennis at artist colonies. The most committed, the players who won’t be distracted from an evening of table tennis by a flirtatious Riesling or an obscure art film are usually the ones who would most easily strike a Faustian bargain in service of their craft. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, surely these were the great Anglophone players of table tennis. Yes, perhaps this is what conditioned me for poetry, my weekday routine that summer after 10th grade. Give me the nine by five field of a ping-pong table and I am instantly pacified, instantly grounded. I’ve always found it comforting.

To say my games with Nube were epic misses the point. And perhaps literary ambition is too loaded a term as well. Suggestions of scale do both poetry and table tennis a disservice. There’s often some joker in a creative writing class who claims writing poems is easier than prose because poems are “short.” And I was once guilty of believing table tennis was a miniature, portable version of tennis. Brevity should not suggest diminished intensity. Nor should a desire to precede one’s peers invite presumptions of worthiness.

Poetry and table tennis are games of reflex. They are played optimally — and play is the operative word — in the synaptic space where consciousness has no time to abstract into self-recrimination. There is no beauty in the reflex itself, there is beauty in its timing. That is, there is beauty in the relation between stimulus and reflex. In poetry, language is the stimulus we are responding to, as it accommodates and counters our efforts.

Language is not a thing to be defeated. Neither is one’s opponent in table tennis, for that matter. Misunderstanding this leads to misconceptions about the nature of ambition among poets and Olympic athletes alike. (I’m reminded of the lines from Kipling that appear above the player’s entrance at Wimbledon: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same.”) Poets and Olympians are in deep communion with their contexts of engagement. The difference is that poets are obliged to determine the size of the playing field as well as the conduct of play appropriate within it. Literary conventions, genres, and received forms like the sonnet exist to mitigate our anxiety in the face of infinite possibility in this regard. But striking this balance is not a simple matter of deciding between the boot cut and the straight leg. You have to know how to wear the garment. In other words, staying in that harmonic mode is the real challenge.

Take for example, George Herbert’s seventeenth century poem, “Easter Wings.” The poem is tricked out with a series of redundancies so we can’t possibly sleep on the message: it’s a hall of mirrors. In case we miss the point in passive reading, we get it dramatically enacted before our eyes. Even if we hear the poem muddled in the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher, the cadence conveys the speaker’s spiritual diminution. The speaker’s process of surrendering the ego culminates (“Most poore” and “most thinne”) with a corresponding embrace of salvation and redemption, a process that is described, again, metrically, rhetorically and typographically in the poem’s ebbing and expanding lines. Finally, that the poem’s symmetrical stanzas happen to look like a pair of wings is, to my mind, its least salient achievement. So much balance is meant to suggest the presence of divine genius, grace, etc., but it also credits Herbert’s world record to his capacity for submission rather than his domination of the game. You have to know (and respect, if not love) your opponent. The player is the game.

His real name is Arthur. I call him The Nubian Prince ironically because that fool stays on ethnic probation. I reminded him of this as he fished around in the milk crate where we stored the equipment. He tossed me my paddle, arguing that behavioral norms are defined in relation to the cultural and economic class with which one chooses to identify. “Duh,” I said. That he could flout our norms so completely was a sign of how deeply he had internalized them. “Poppycock!” I shouted because I didn’t know what else to say.

Nube was scrupulous about his shit. Nube had opinions on the merits of the Chinese versus Japanese pen holds, the thickness of the pad on the paddle blade relative to ball spin. His paddles were layered with varying polymers that, according to him, would respond isometrically to the ball’s “coefficient of restitution,” which gives the skilled player greater control over the “axis of rotation.” We both knew he was windbagging, but it served our mutual vanity to pretend something had been said and something understood. The end result was that he crushed the ball every opportunity he got. Once he figured out the topspin, sometimes fattening his stroke in delayed gratification in order to return the ball from well below the level of the table, the ball usually looped inbounds with such sawtoothed fury that I had no choice but to block, holding my paddle in the universal posture of the punked. But he continued to grow, presenting new shots like curios and interesting riddles for me to solve, forcing me to grow in turn.

My paddle: a simple wooden job with a pad textured like a jelly jar opener glued to each side. I may not have been so particular about it, but I wasn’t disinterested either. The Spartans didn’t keep shit simple because they didn’t know any better. I, too, had a rationale: I didn’t want my paddle to feel like a chunk of the gymnasium floor. I liked to feel the click of the ball making contact, like the shutting of a humidor or a camera aperture or a quality pen top. I could do it all day. Click, click, click, tiny shock waves caught in the web of carpal bones. I used a simple handshake grip and could feel the imaginary elastic that connected my paddle to the ball lengthen and tense as with each forehand I led Nubie through the shadowed recesses of his garage. We competed in mirrored gestures, gestures altered in the translations our bodies made. Such intimacy, such rare and peaceful focus the game affords. The joy in reciprocity.

We spent so much time together I’m surprised his mom didn’t accuse us of being on drugs. Maybe she did and Nube ran interference. When the cops caught him, they knew Nubie wasn’t alone. But he never told anyone who it was that got away.

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A Review of Gregory Pardlo's Digest by Cyrus Cassells, first published by Washington Spectator

Gregory Pardlo is a poet of joyous variety and wonder. It’s clear from the lively and anthem-like opening poem, “Written By Himself,” in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Digest, that he’s as wide-ranging, humane, irrepressible, and inclusive in his snappy 21st-century fashion as fellow urbanite and trailblazing singer Walt Whitman:

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet / whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye; / I was born across the river where I / was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth, / broadsides sewn into my shoes. I returned, though / it pleased you, through no fault of my own, / pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells . . . / I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry; / I was an index of first lines when I was born.

Nothing seems to escape this uncovering poet’s full-on scrutiny, his wry but empathetic assessment; Pardlo is a modern griot and shape-shifter, a Prospero of unforced allusion: an up-for-anything Pardlo poem can deftly evoke sociology, jazz, lofty philosophy, African-American lit, Russian cinema, Greek mythology, European travel, film noir, hip hop, and a host of other topics. His heartening and exuberant intelligence is everywhere on display in Digest, and his musically brisk, propelling, always-alive poems are laden with spot-on observations and trenchant commentary, with small and sometimes key epiphanies. Dipping into highbrow and blue collar at will, into catchy pop and classical, Lord knows who or what he’ll drop into any given poem: this newly crowned book is that eclectic.

Among its impressively varied offerings, Digest contains: a punning poem about “Black pampers”; a bluesy quartet of poems from the vantage of wounded, “backhanded” Ursa, the singer-heroine of Gayl Jones’s searing novel, Corregidora; a psychologically astute and riveting long poem, “Alienation Effects,” in the persona of the mentally ill French philosopher and professor Louis Althusser, who eventually strangled his wife; and two sequences of stunning “improvisations” that begin with quotes from such heavyweights as Cervantes, Kierkegaard, Aquinas, and Heraclitus; in his vibrant game of cultural and historical ricochet, in one feat of sleight-of-hand, Pardlo braids the words of St. Augustine with Freud and Prince’s libidinous hit tune, “Little Red Corvette.”

Digest is only Gregory Pardlo’s second book; his first, Totem, was selected as a winner of the prestigious APR/Honickman Prize by the savvy Brenda Hillman, and revealed the debuting poet as a swift-moving cataloguer, an artful crafter of dazzling lines and startling juxtapositions: in a keen poem set in a late-night Manhattan metro station, the speaker slyly beseeched a subway car:

Afford me some pity, dear Nessie / of halogen and steel, your sub-street tempest sparking / moments blind and shuddering with caprice / like a wet dog.

In Digest, ever the nimble synthesizer and eyewitness chronicler, Pardlo has become even more attuned to community ritual and routine, even more purposeful and spirited in his exploration of an unlimited spectrum of life-as-we-know-it-now. As a contemporary cultural observer, he can be as arrow-true and engaging, as cogent in a head-nodding way, as bestselling critic and novelist Roxane Gay (see “Raisin,” “For Which It Stands,” and the Gassendi section of “The Conatus Improvisations,” for example) and he has a real flair for conveying well-meaning but fumbling fatherhood and an able ear and eye for domestic comedy; I’m delighted by crackling lines and details, such as the opening of “Problema 1,” a perfect example of his dense, cascading music:

Because Venus lifted the Rosewater Dish like a shield / in the sun, the graying father of two squatted a juggle/ of balls against a playground wall that had been graffitied / for an episode of Law & Order set in the hood. / The desiccated catgut of his racket strummed / like a junkyard harp with each gouty groundstroke.

In an America that is too often stridently anti-intellectual and excluding, Digest stands as a triumph of imaginative freedom and goodwill, of Black heart and intellect. In “For Which It Stands,” Pardlo speaks of a “pledge to birth a nation / of belonging and to teach that nation / of the fire shut up in our bones.” In the poet’s soulful case, it might be a winning fire of intellect sparked by at-the-ready compassion and curiosity. Unhampered by any stringent prescriptions or notions regarding what a Black man is supposed to write, Pardlo celebrates both text and marginalia, the worldly and the everyday, and makes his own heady, un-bossed, wildly meditative music.

At 46, Gregory Pardlo is only the second African-American man to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. In a time of unprecedented incarceration and daily harassment of African-American men, in a time of “deadly force” (“I gave birth, I gave blessing, I give rise to suspicion”), Pardlo’s Pulitzer Prize is real cause for cheering: just the kind of authentic good news we’ve needed lately in these United States of belonging, of still flourishing bigotry and unbeatable hope.

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                 A review of Digest at The Rumpus

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An Interview with Gregory Pardlo by Alexandra Alter, first published by The New York Times

On an unabashedly glorious afternoon this week, the poet and essayist Phillip Lopate stood in front of a small group of graduate students in Columbia University’s creative writing program. He took attendance, noting a few absences, before turning to a discussion about the German filmmaker Harun Farocki.

But first he singled out a student sitting at the lecture table, who was fiddling with his pen and notebook, with a backpack stuffed full of library books at his feet.

“I just want to embarrass Greg and make an announcement,” Mr. Lopate said. “He just won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.”

Gregory Pardlo smiled broadly, muttered his thanks and did not look terribly embarrassed.

The day had already been a surreal blur, beginning with congratulatory emails, texts, and messages on Facebook and Twitter, then hugs and handshakes as Mr. Pardlo made his way to class at Columbia, where he is a teaching fellow and earning an M.F.A. in nonfiction. “I was going to get a slow clap going for you in the hallway,” one student teasingly told him.

Mr. Pardlo, 46, laughed and shook his head at how odd it all seemed. “I feel like I’m following around another guy who everyone is congratulating,” he said.

Mr. Pardlo, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, wasn’t just being coy. “Digest,” his second volume of poetry, was rejected by all of the major publishers when he first sent it out in 2010. When it was finally published last fall, by the small literary press Four Way Books, it sold modestly. While most of the critical attention last year went to widely celebrated poets like Claudia Rankine, Edward Hirsch and Louise Glück, “Digest” made Slate’s list of Overlooked Books of 2014. It has sold around 1,500 copies to date, according to Martha Rhodes, the director of Four Way Books, which is now printing another 5,000.

Even some fans of Mr. Pardlo’s work were surprised to see him take home one of the country’s most prestigious literary awards.

Stephen Burt, a poetry critic and professor of English at Harvard University, described some of Mr. Pardlo’s verses as “deliberately inelegant in a modernist kind of way.”

“They’re very information-dense and very conscious of playing with genre and trope in kinds of written language,” Mr. Burt said. “When this doesn’t work, it makes Pardlo sound kind of academic. When it does work, it’s terrific.”

Mr. Pardlo’s writing is often pointedly arcane, poking fun at the self-consciousness of academic and critical discourse. “Digest” includes fake sociological essays and reviews of imaginary books. “I’m trying to lampoon academic language, but my little secret is that I actually speak that,” Mr. Pardlo said.

But he also writes intensely personal poems — with scenes that describe shopping for groceries with his daughter or unpack his anxieties about fatherhood — and delivers funny and poignant dispatches from the front lines of gentrifying Brooklyn.

“He’s interrogating the everyday,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith said. “Another poet might be afraid to draw on so much of the true stuff that a life is made of.”

Mr. Pardlo came from a working-class family in Willingboro, N.J. His mother was a graphic artist who worked for the Yellow Pages. His father was an air traffic controller who joined the strike in 1981 and lost his job, leaving his once secure family scraping to get by.

As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, Mr. Pardlo studied political science and planned to become a lawyer. But the classes bored him, and he left school, returned home and fought with his father. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve “as a rebellious gesture.” The experience taught him the value of discipline, training and routine. “It was a living nightmare that turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself,” he said.

Mr. Pardlo’s path to poetry was tortuous and unconventional, punctuated by long breaks and odd jobs. He struggled with alcoholism, which runs in his family. “My family’s a hot mess,” he said. (In 2010, his family was featured on the A&E reality show “Intervention,” when his mother staged an intervention for his younger brother, Robbie Pardlo, a hard-partying musician whose once popular R&B group, City High, fell apart.)

During a break from college that lasted about five years, Mr. Pardlo worked in a restaurant in Copenhagen and learned to speak Danish, which he later drew on to translate a volume of poetry by Niels Lyngso. He moved home to help his grandfather run a blues and jazz bar in Pennsauken, N.J., for a while. “I turned out to be a terrible businessman,” he said. “It may as well have been a nonprofit.”

He went back to Rutgers-Camden and became an English major. He fell in love with poetry, swiftly and permanently. “I came out of the literary closet,” Mr. Pardlo said. He was accepted into Cave Canem, a writers’ collective for African-American poets. Some early critiques were harsh. “I remember how crushing that experience was,” he said.

But he was undeterred. He got his master’s in poetry at New York University, where he received a New York Times fellowship. He published his first book of poems, “Totem,” in 2007. He has cobbled together a living through a string of teaching positions and is getting his Ph.D. in English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He’s currently working on a book of essays about the air traffic controllers’ strike and the effect it had on his family.

Mr. Pardlo lives in a rambling townhouse with his wife, Ginger Romero Pardlo, who is from El Salvador; and their two daughters, 7 and 10. The house sits on a quiet residential block, near a bodega and a storefront Pentecostal church. It’s full of toys, books and instruments, including a keyboard and a large harp, and is patrolled by the family’s docile pet bunny, Oliver. Mr. Pardlo sometimes works out of a closet-size office clogged with books and papers, adjacent to his daughters’ room.

They have lived there for a decade and witnessed a huge demographic shift as wealthier families and new businesses move in. “We like to think, we’re people of color and this is our neighborhood, but the truth is we’re the gentrifiers,” he said.

Walking through his neighborhood in the early evening, he passed an upscale coffee shop, a dog run and a community garden. Mr. Pardlo said that “Digest” already felt like a literary artifact, describing a place that had become nearly unrecognizable to longtime residents.

“My neighborhood now is schizophrenic,” he said. “The community I describe in the book no longer exists.”

Mr. Pardlo lives in a rambling townhouse with his wife, Ginger Romero Pardlo, who is from El Salvador; and their two daughters, 7 and 10. The house sits on a quiet residential block, near a bodega and a storefront Pentecostal church. It’s full of toys, books and instruments, including a keyboard and a large harp, and is patrolled by the family’s docile pet bunny, Oliver. Mr. Pardlo sometimes works out of a closet-size office clogged with books and papers, adjacent to his daughters’ room.

They have lived there for a decade and witnessed a huge demographic shift as wealthier families and new businesses move in. “We like to think, we’re people of color and this is our neighborhood, but the truth is we’re the gentrifiers,” he said.

Walking through his neighborhood in the early evening, he passed an upscale coffee shop, a dog run and a community garden. Mr. Pardlo said that “Digest” already felt like a literary artifact, describing a place that had become nearly unrecognizable to longtime residents.

“My neighborhood now is schizophrenic,” he said. “The community I describe in the book no longer exists.”

Mr. Pardlo lives in a rambling townhouse with his wife, Ginger Romero Pardlo, who is from El Salvador; and their two daughters, 7 and 10. The house sits on a quiet residential block, near a bodega and a storefront Pentecostal church. It’s full of toys, books and instruments, including a keyboard and a large harp, and is patrolled by the family’s docile pet bunny, Oliver. Mr. Pardlo sometimes works out of a closet-size office clogged with books and papers, adjacent to his daughters’ room.

They have lived there for a decade and witnessed a huge demographic shift as wealthier families and new businesses move in. “We like to think, we’re people of color and this is our neighborhood, but the truth is we’re the gentrifiers,” he said.

Walking through his neighborhood in the early evening, he passed an upscale coffee shop, a dog run and a community garden. Mr. Pardlo said that “Digest” already felt like a literary artifact, describing a place that had become nearly unrecognizable to longtime residents.

“My neighborhood now is schizophrenic,” he said. “The community I describe in the book no longer exists.”

Mr. Pardlo lives in a rambling townhouse with his wife, Ginger Romero Pardlo, who is from El Salvador; and their two daughters, 7 and 10. The house sits on a quiet residential block, near a bodega and a storefront Pentecostal church. It’s full of toys, books and instruments, including a keyboard and a large harp, and is patrolled by the family’s docile pet bunny, Oliver. Mr. Pardlo sometimes works out of a closet-size office clogged with books and papers, adjacent to his daughters’ room.

They have lived there for a decade and witnessed a huge demographic shift as wealthier families and new businesses move in. “We like to think, we’re people of color and this is our neighborhood, but the truth is we’re the gentrifiers,” he said.

Walking through his neighborhood in the early evening, he passed an upscale coffee shop, a dog run and a community garden. Mr. Pardlo said that “Digest” already felt like a literary artifact, describing a place that had become nearly unrecognizable to longtime residents.

“My neighborhood now is schizophrenic,” he said. “The community I describe in the book no longer exists.”

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                   An interview with Gregory Pardlo at PBS

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                     An interview with Gregory Pardlo at Pen America

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