An Interview with Alison Malee

Poet and performer Alison Malee captures the past, present, and future with a truthful yet delicate touch. The author of Shifting Bone (2016) and The Day is Ready for You (2018) is now on her third book of poetry, titled This Is the Journey, which explores themes of opportunity, possibility, and new beginnings.


Malee grew up dreaming of opportunity, lights, crowds, and crisp Manhattan air. Today, she lives in New York with her family, performing spoken word and teaching writing workshops. Moving to the city at just 19, New York has become a common motif in Malee’s writing.  “New York is my home in many ways,” says Malee. “. . . It will always house my dreams. Some of the most important moments in my life have happened somewhere in the depths of Manhattan, and it will always be the place I feel like the most authentic version of myself.”


Malee’s work is strongly influenced by her personal experiences, and she often takes on themes of race, culture, and identity in an intimate and empathetic light. “As an adoptee, my identity has always been tied to my lack of race and culture,” she explains:


“I have lived a lifetime full of questions. Where does this part of me come from? How do I fit here? Where do I belong? Late last year I was able to reunite with a few members of my biological family, and I am still learning and processing new information about myself, and my own identity . . . ”


A reflection of her lived experiences, Malee’s poetry remains ever-changing. “My life, heart, and relationships are always evolving, and so the work evolves with it. If I were to stay stagnant—if my world were to remain the same—I believe in some way my work would too,” she says. “I am always trying to learn, trying to hone my writing, trying to grow as both a woman and a poet.”


Against others’ advice, Malee reads her reviews. She finds great insight by seeing what resonates with readers—and what doesn’t. She admits that some reviews can be hurtful, but doesn’t let criticism stifle her. “There will always be people who have critiques, who don’t understand, who do not care for your voice or style,” she says. “As long as you are writing work that is honest, that rings for your heart, then you are doing all you can do, and the negativity that can come from reading the reviews should not touch you.”


Malee feels that art is subjective, and finds that to be one of the most beautiful things about poetry, after all. “One of my favorite aspects of poetry is that a poem can truly take on entirely different meanings for different readers.” While she enjoys poetry that uses mystery and complex metaphors, Malee also loves poetry that gets right to the heart of the issue. “ . . . as a writer, sometimes the most therapeutic part of the process is to tell a blunt, truthful story without getting caught up in the whirlwind of exuberant poetic language.”


Photos by Patience Randle

In addition to reading reviews, Malee connects with her readers through social media. She believes that social media has created a whole new avenue of poetry by making authors easier to reach. Malee explains:


“ . . . a few years ago was that the average self-published author would sell about 200 books per calendar year. Now, writers have an instant way to connect with their readers that allows them to close part of the divide. Writing trends will always come and go, as with any trend, but the ability to reach our readers with not only our work but also little pieces of our lives and our worlds is irreplaceable.”


However, being a female writer on social media does present its challenges. Though Malee loves to share her life with her readers, sometimes lines are crossed. “That is usually the hardest to handle,” she says. “ . . . usually that just means rebuking access to my sites or networks. As a whole, I write a significant amount of poetry about what it means for me to be a woman, and I work to write pieces that are both powerful and encouraging for the women that may need it as much as I do.”


When she’s not writing, Malee spends most of her available free time with her family. “If I am not wrangling at least one kiddo, or trying to squeeze in quality time with my husband, I am usually reading, taking in fresh air, listening to music, drinking too much coffee, or watching too much Netflix,” she says. She’s currently reading two books of poetry: New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. However, Malee is a longtime fan of Mary Oliver. “I love the way she connects nature to her world and manages to weave it so seamlessly throughout her poetry and prose,” she says.


In addition to her passion for writing, Malee has a special place in her heart for spoken word. She attends spoken word events as much as she can, and admits that performing is her first love. However, she finds a great divide between writing for the stage versus the page. “When I know I am writing a piece with the idea of performing in mind, the rhythm of the piece changes drastically,” says Malee. “I want it to have sound and added texture to it in a way that the written word doesn’t necessarily require.”


Whether she’s writing for spoken word performance or paperback collections, Malee is inspired by the world around her, drawing from relationships, memories, art, music, and of course, poetry. “But at the end of the day,” she says, “I am most inspired by love. There is so much great love to be experienced in this life. Whether that is with family, friends, children, spouses. There is nothing quite as powerful or as sacred as love.”


Malee continues to write and perform in New York City. Her newest collection, This Is the Journey is on sale now.