The Many Lives of Prize-Winning Poet Jan Beatty

On this day in 1995, Jan Beatty released her first collection of poems, Mad River, making today the perfect day to celebrate this incredible poet. 

Jan Beatty is an acclaimed poet from Pittsburgh, PA. Before pursuing writing full time, it seems as though Jan has lived a thousand lives. She has been a welfare caseworker, a sexual assault counselor, a nurse’s aide, and a waitress. All of these experiences make their way into her poetry, either explicitly or through the lessons they’ve taught her. 

Jan’s first poetry collection, Mad River, is about Jan’s childhood and later womanhood in Pittsburgh. Exploring Jan’s sexual and emotional development, the poems act as a kind of confessional, delving into the raw and visceral elements of youth. Mad River won her the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, a literary award given to a first full-length poetry book. In her next collection, Boneshaker, Jan explores the meaning of the body, and the human experience of living in one. 

Most recently, Jan published a memoir, entitled American Bastard in 2021. Actually, the book can be thought of more as a hybrid between a poetry collection and a memoir; in it, she recounts her life’s experiences through a series of vignettes written in prose. 

American Bastard is about Jan’s origins—her birth, the first year of her life which she spent at the Roselia Asylum and Maternity Hospital in Pittsburgh, and her subsequent adoption. She also explores her experiences finding out who her birth parents are, and meeting with her birth mother. 

In a review of American Bastard, FF2 Contributor Iris Dunkle says, “American Bastard is relentless, a page-turner that one can’t put down. I devoured it in nearly a sitting; I was so mesmerized by Beatty’s story. [..] We get to feel what it felt like to be erased at the roots, and what it feels to learn how to grow again toward the light.” 

Throughout her career, Jan has published eight books of poetry and a memoir. She has won the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and the Creative Achievement Award in Literature. The deeply personal nature of Jan’s writing makes reading her work a visceral experience. As a woman who has experienced life deeply, both personally and through the wide array of people that she’s met, Jan produces poetry that is full of raw truth. 

© Julia Lasker (1/4/2023) FF2 Media


Read Iris Dunkle’s review of American Bastard here. 

Explore Jan Beatty’s work here.


Featured photo: “reading at Split This Rock 2016” by S L O W K I N G is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Tags: American Bastard, Boneshaker, Creative Achievement Award, Iris Dunkle, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Jan Beatty, Mad River, Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, Pittsburgh, poetry

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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