francine j. harris

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Date: Aug. 11, 2017
Document Type: Biography
Length: 709 words

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About this Person
Born: Detroit, Michigan, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Poet
Updated:Aug. 11, 2017


Female. Education: Arizona State University, B.A.; University of Michigan, M.F.A., 2011. E-mail:


Poet, educator, and activist. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, former writing instructor; Centre College, Danville, KY, former writing instructor; Washington University, St. Louis, MO, writer in residence; Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, MI, writing instructor.


Davidson Clayton Prize for Emerging Poets, Michigan Quarterly Review; Cave Canem fellow, 2008; Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest winner, 2014; National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, 2015.




  • Allegiance, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 2012.
  • Play Dead, Alice James Books (Farmington, ME), 2016.

Contributor of poems to periodicals, including Meridian, Indiana Review, Callaloo, Boston Review, McSweeney's, Ploughshares, and Poetry.


Poet Francine J. Harris--who styles her name with lowercase letters in publications--was largely raised in Detroit, and the city plays a significant role in her work. Yet, as Harris told A.L. Major for the Michigan Quarterly Review, "Being a Detroit writer could become coded, both racially and exotically, and I don't really want to go that route. I really hope most of my landmarks and symbolisms and moods and identifiable imageries mix up and switch up when I come back to the page. My poems are not Detroit poems, but they're written in Detroit, at a specific time, at a specific place." She added that the role of home is more important than the circumstances of home, asserting: "Diversion and masking is a part of who we are. The thing I like about poetry is that it stares. In general, fiction or prose pans the room. Poetry is a still shot. I like that, staying with a moment until it makes sense. I can't do that any other way."

For her work, Harris has been named a Cave Canem fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and her 2016 collection Play Dead has been lauded by critics. The wide-ranging collection touches on everything from girlhood and romance to sex and existential crisis. The four-part poem "Pink Pigs," which abstractly effects catcalls and sexual violence, serves as the book's structural foundation, while "A Brief History of Scent" charts the progression from girlhood to sexual object to Madonna--i.e., the fate of all women. According to John Freeman on the Michigan Radio Web site, "the images ... are as troubling as they are beautifully wrought. In part this is because Harris not only acknowledges our cultural predilection for misogyny and violence, but her verse holds up a mirror to the readers' role in this system."

Play Dead also engages with these themes through free forms, experimental use of punctuation, and surprising applications of syntax and diction. A Publishers Weekly critic announced that Harris "is a keen observer of self and other, writing not as a distant anthropologist, but as an empathetic and silent witness." A contributor to the Nervous Poodle Poetry Web site was equally laudatory, remarking: "I spent a few days reading these poems, and I took my time moving through the collection in order to adequately embrace everything Harris puts on the page. This is a collection that stirred something inside of me, as it will for you." In the words of online Yellow Chair Review correspondent Clara B. Jones, "Harris' use of language is playful, collage-like, and fragmentary, and she, also, uses punctuation and forms creatively." Jones furthermore advised that "it is rare to encounter a young female poet whose voice is so certain and so mature. Given the well-deserved attention Harris has received to date, her future work is sure to expand her audience. Even if 'collage' poetics is not your preference, I encourage you to acquaint yourself with Harris' strong, emotional, and moving poetry. I suspect that her next book is awaited eagerly by many, and I look forward to following her career." Ansley Clark offered additional applause on the Volta Blog, declaring that Play Dead "involves a fierce and painful interplay between power and powerlessness and between violence and light. Reading this book is like watching light shift across shattered glass--I give this image not to be poetic, but to describe the book's tight and chaotic ecology, as well as the poems' forms and their physical presence on the page. Harris' lines and stanzas spread like cracks across the entire page."




Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2016, review of Play Dead, p. 50.


Boston Review Online, (September 10, 2014), "2014 Poetry Concert Winner: Francine J. Harris."

Michigan Quarterly Review Online, (June 4, 2012), A.L. Major, author interview.

Michigan Radio Web site, (November 1, 2016), John Freeman, review of Play Dead.

Nervous Poodle Poetry, (June 12, 2016), review of Play Dead.

NPR Web site, (January 3, 2016), Craig Morgan Teicher, "In a Dark Time, the Eye Begins to See: A 2016 Poetry Preview."

Volta Blog, (August 22, 2016), Ansley Clark, review of Play Dead.

Yellow Chair Review, (August 24, 2016), Clara B. Jones, review of Play Dead.*

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000324169