Rita Mae Reese has climbed through many different jobs and paths to get to Madison. She grew up in beautiful West Virginia, and often draws from her roots in her poetry. Her path led her to work up the ranks for a lesbian press down in Florida, earning a Bachelor’s at Florida State University, moving to Madison to complete her MFA.
Reese’s second book, 2016’s The Book Of Hulga, is a strong look into a character who was never truly born. The book centers around Hulga a character that Flannery O’Connor created but never fleshed out, though O’Connor did note that she “doesn’t like flowers or nice young men.” Reese’s poetry is reflective and speculative in its world building, but it holds true to the O’Connor tradition of humor and darkness. The decision to bring to light a character who never got the chance to see the page came from Reese’s admiration of O’Connor, but also the necessity to tell stories that are needed. Rita herself feels that “O’Connor is a part author, Simone Weil is a part author,” and her inspirations through them brought the book to life.
Since moving to Madison, Reese has also played a key role in building the literary community, partially through workshops and readings at Arts + Literature Laboratory on the east side. Reese also discussed her work with the space on another recent Tone Madison podcast episode. (Full disclosure: Tone Madison also frequently hosts events at ALL.)
Rita is currently working on an upcoming book of essays and a novel whose plot is a ghost story set in West Virginia. She joined Tone Madison contributor John McCracken to read a few of her poems and discuss the origins of The Book Of Hulga, the needs of Madison’s literary community, her ongoing series of lesbian poet trading cards, and a poem generator on her website.
This episode is also part of an effort to bring more voices of Madison poets and writers to the podcast on what we hope will be a frequent basis. Got a suggestion for someone we should include? Send us an email.