Shaina Jones started her role as an Assistant English professor at Elon University last fall. While helping her students hone their creative writing skills, Jones was working to publish her own collection poetry.
Jones’ students, friends and colleagues celebrated the book’s publication Sept. 5 at the Numen Lumen Pavilion. Tita Ramirez, a fellow English professor, started the celebration by introducing Jones and her work.
“It is beautiful, it is joyous, it is heartbreaking,” Ramirez said.
Jones handpicked a selection of poems from the collection to share. The readings included “Ghazal for Black Girls in Miami,” a poem about a group of Black women vacationing in Miami.
“Sometimes I look at this book and I’m bewildered that I’m holding it in my hand,” Jones said.
Jones explained throughout her reading that Black “femme-hood,” celebration and Harlem – where Jones is from – are common threads throughout her collection.
“These are the support beams that are holding the collection up,” Jones said.
Aside from this reading, Jones said she has experienced many other impactful moments throughout her time at Elon so far. This includes the last-minute reading her students encouraged her to hold.
“My students told me I had to read this,” Jones said. “They showed up in big, big numbers. Even some of my 1100 level people who thought they were never going to write again in their lives came from the basketball court screaming my name through the hallway.”
When the book was initially launched in April, Jones’ brought together a group of her students, friends and colleagues for a launch party in the Center for the Arts Black Box.
“I feel like this impacted them, not that they wanted to hear poetry but just that they felt like I was worth it as a teacher,” Jones said.
Jones’ students are not the only people impacted by her poetry. The manuscript Jones wrote, which became “To Be Named Something Else,” won the Millers Williams Poetry Prize in August 2022. Jones received a $5,000 cash prize, her work being published through the University of Arkansas press and approval from Patricia Smith, a fellow Black female poet– who Jones said she looks up to as a writer. Smith was the editor of the 2023 Miller Williams Poetry Series, which “To Be Named Something Else” was published under.
“She didn’t just read Shaina’s poetry, she didn’t just like Shaina’s poetry, she loved Shaina’s poetry,” Ramirez said as she was introducing Jones.
Jones is in her late 20s and told Elon News Network that despite her age, she has the right to be an educator and help her students develop their creative writing skills.
“It has been a little isolating to walk into a new space as a young person and trying to acclimate amongst people who are sometimes 20 years older than me,” Jones said. “I’ve done the work to exist in this space.”
Jones said that since she started at Elon, she has grown as an educator.
“I’m getting a lot of new experiences and really rethinking my pedagogy and my ways that I like to teach that work for students,” Jones said.
Jones said she is still very open to the challenges that this new space will bring for her and how these experiences will affect her creatively.
“It’s been I guess what any new thing is right?” Jones said. “There are challenges, there are things that bring joy, there are things that perplex me, and there are things that bewilder me.”
“To Be Named Something Else” was published last spring and Jones said she already has plans for her next venture.
“I thought I was writing a second book of poems, but it might be a book of essays, so that is what I am playing with,” Jones said.