Al Young title

THE BIG SMOKE | Poems by Adrian Matejka | Penguin (2013)


“A chunky, chilling, fondly researched reminder of what life was like for one of the greatest boxers in the run-up to the American Century and its opening decades. In Jack Johnson’s imagined voices, Adrian Matejka retells the Big Smoke’s story straight, slant and sweet. A Velcro read.”
— Al Young

BIG SMOKE cvr Clickable

A finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry—a collection that examines the myth and history of the prizefighter Jack Johnson.
The legendary Jack Johnson (1878–1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxers—and white America—to become the first African American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka’s third work of poetry, follows the fighter’s journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved. Matejka’s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnson’s complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth.


Button-Play-32x32 Watch and listen to Adrian Matejka read from The Big Smoke at the 2013 National Book Awards.

Poems by Adrian Matejka
[pronounced Ma-TEE-ka]


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