William & Mary

Little's poetry reaps big reward

  • Coming soon to a bookstore near you
    Coming soon to a bookstore near you  Brianna Little '17 won a $3,500 fellowship to have a book of her poems published before next October.  Photo by Jim Ducibella
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Almost from the time Brianna Little ’17 wrote her first poem – cleverly telling a boy in her fourth-grade class that she didn’t want to be his girlfriend – one of her goals has been to produce a book of poetry.

“But I didn’t have the money,” Little explained.

She does now.

Little, a Psychology major, recently was awarded $3,500 from Washington, D.C.’s Arts and Humanities Fellowship Program for the express purpose of publishing a book of her work by next October.

Other fellowships were awarded and across a broad spectrum of endeavors to artists whose “artistic excellence significantly contributes to the District of Columbia as a world class cultural capital,” according to the program’s guidelines.

“I write a lot about living in D.C., and race and gender,” she said. “I think it's really important to have that kind of perspective in writing because I grew up reading a lot of fiction by white authors. The writing is good, but I didn’t really feel I could relate to any of it. I think it’s important – especially for young kids who are imaginative and inventive – to read things that are by people who look like them and have had similar experiences to them.”

Little’s love of poetry has an avalanche-like quality to it. The snowball began with that fourth-grade poem. It grew a bit when the recipient, having moved away, wrote a letter to Little’s fifth-grade teacher, asking her to tell Little that he still had the poem she’d written.

“He thought it was great,” she said.

The snowball gained momentum in middle school, where one of Little’s English teachers would read and critique her poetry. And it really started barreling downhill when that teacher introduced her to the works of Nikki Giovanni and Emily Dickinson.

“I just kept writing throughout high school,” she said, “and even though I got more into journalism at that time, I’d still write in my free time.”

Little grew up in Southwest Washington, the smallest quadrant of the District of Columbia. It includes the National Mall and a waterfront area that is undergoing a major gentrification, including a $1.5 billion redevelopment known as The Wharf. To say it has been economically diverse would be an understatement.

“A lot of my friends lived in bad neighborhoods, something I didn’t realize until I was in high school because I lived in a pretty nice area,” she said. “My parents make pretty good money, and I didn’t realize that my friends were poor. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized what the cost of living in D.C. was compared to what my parents made.”

Little found out about the fellowship program from an older colleague with whom she worked with at Ford’s Theater. She offered the selection committee a sampling of her work, a proposed budget and an “artist’s statement” representing the themes she felt most represented her thoughts and philosophies. She plans to begin the task of compiling and creating her book during winter break.

She hopes to put forth a voice completely different from those she read growing up.

“I think having more writers out there that are writing about experiences that are just as valid as those of [Ernest] Hemingway and Robert Frost will get children of color into reading and writing,” she said. “That’s really important.”