“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 voice, Adrian Matejka retells the Big Smoke’s story straight, slant and sweet. A Velcro read.”
– Al Young
A finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetryâ€”a collection that examines the myth and history of the prizefighter Jack Johnson.
The legendary Jack Johnson (1878â€“1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxersâ€”and white Americaâ€”to become the first African American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejkaâ€™s third work of poetry, follows the fighterâ€™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. Matejkaâ€™s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnsonâ€™s complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth.
Poems by Adrian Matejka