'This 'yes' feels so good': KB Brookins on their new book and becoming an NEA fellow
KB Brookins, who recently received a National Endowment for the Arts creative fellowship, says it’s an honor they’ve long coveted – they just had to wait a bit to meet the application qualifications. “I've been reading, writing and performing poetry for something like 10 years, on and off,” Brookins says. “And finally I met their threshold. So I applied along with some friends. And [I’m] really, really… grateful to say I was one of the folks picked, along with some large superstars that I really look up to.”
Brookins says the fellowship is one of the achievements they’ve been working toward in their professional life. “Years ago, I wrote down this list of things – like I want to get this, I want to get this – and one of the things was the NEA [fellowship]. And luckily I feel like I got over that large impostor syndrome a number of years ago,” they say. “So now I just, you know, keep my head down, keep my eyes in the books and keep my pen moving. And, you know, as I get rejections and things like that, I'm like, oh, OK, this is an opportunity for me to go harderor this is an opportunity for me to find the people that will understand what I'm trying to say. So why not apply? The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And, you know, this yes feels so good because I got so many nos, you know?”
Brookins has more than just the NEA fellowship to be proud of this year – they’re also set to release Freedom House, a book of poetry that’s been in the making for a while.
“[It’s] absolutely years' worth of work,” they say. “It first came to be, really, when I was doing this creative workshop session – I’ve been, locally in Austin, doing a lot of workshops based on poetry and art and activism and the mixing of all of three of those things in this workshop tentatively called ‘Freedom House.’ I was like, ‘OK, so if freedom was a house, what tool would poetry be, or how can we use poetry as a tool to build this Freedom House?’”
That prompt was meant to inspire their students, but Brookins found it inspiration in it as well. “Now I'm like, thinking of this really more intently – like, OK, if there was a house and it was built on freedom, what would that look like? And I started thinking about that, personally and also systemically.”
The work in Freedom House began in 2018, and in the intervening years, Brookins has done a lot of work, both professionally and personally. “It took a lot of living honestly and just like learning more about myself,” they say. “A lot of writing, a lot of rewriting, editing, in order to get to this place. So, yeah, it's just been like a process of refining what it is that I'm trying to say. And really, with this book, I feel that I'm trying to say we can attain freedom in lots of different ways. And I, you know, personally did that through my medical transition and being an out trans person, which is not easy to do, especially right now where we have all of this opposition and, honestly, ignorance around trans people.”
Back in 2018, Brookins might not have realized how impactful that writing prompt would turn out to be. “Yeah,” they say. “I mean, I'm really grateful for the positive reaction to that prompt that I had because now I have a whole book and I have all of these feelings that I've been able to excavate and all these stories I've been able to tell of people that often don't get stories – you know, black folks, trans people. Our stories are either untold or erased a lot of the times. And with this book, I'm really trying to write myself and write… the people that I've come to love into history, you know? Because I think writing literature is also an archival thing. We learn a lot about the times that we've lived in through literature.”
'Freedom House' by KB Brookins is available wherever you get your books.