Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Aziza Barnes to Be Published by YesYes

By Katelyn Miller

Los Angeles. New York. Oxford. Sound like a less-than-logical progression? Not to MFA student Aziza Barnes, whose book of poetry, I Be But I Ain’t, has recently been accepted by YesYes Books. Based around the ten poems she submitted as her application material for the program, the book has grown to about 60 pages.

In terms of what this acceptance means, Barnes said “You get an approximately two-week book tour, and a release party, which is always fun, and a first print run. I think the real joy is that you get to work with YesYes as a publishing house. My favorite thing is putting the book together and working with the people that run it. They’re just really brilliant women.”

Barnes’s manuscript was nominated for publication by fellow poet Danez Smith, who has previously been published by YesYes, among others.

“He submitted it for me, and I’m forever grateful for that,” Barnes grins.” It was a huge vote of confidence.”

Barnes is also working on her first novel, which is set in Mississippi, and which played no small part in her decision to apply to The University of Mississippi.

“I’ve never lived anywhere like Oxford before, but it’s beautiful,” said the L.A. native and NYU alum. “There are trees! I love the trees.”

Barnes cited the English Department Faculty Member and Poet Derrick Harriell and the current Grisham writer-in-residence, Kiese Laymon as both inspirations for attending The University of Mississippi and other faculty she’s excited to work with.

“I’m working with Derrick Harriell. He’s one of the reasons I applied. I really dig his work, and he was really down to talk to me and put me in touch with other people,” said Barnes. “Working with Kiese is really exciting. He’s another reason I wanted to come here. His work saved my spirit on more than one occasion.”

Harriell said, “Aziza Barnes is a tremendous talent and wonderful soul. Although she’s already an accomplished writer, I truly believe she’s just scratching the surface of her talents. We are extremely lucky to have her as a student in our MFA program.”

Barnes explained that another draw was Oxford itself, precisely because it didn’t fit on a list with cities like L.A. and New York.

She said with a shrug “It was what I needed, what I wanted it to be. Just a quiet place that was different from anywhere I’d ever lived.”

As for what the future holds, Barnes said there are big things to come, both in terms of her literary career and more personal, social goals.

“I’m still working on this novel, but an even more spiritual project is that I want black people from northern cities, western cities, to come to Mississippi and feel like they’re allowed to come to Mississippi,” said Barnes.

She remembered, “Whenever I told people I was coming to Mississippi for my MFA, they’d always make a face. They’d jolt. There was never a non-reaction…I really want, eventually, to make a space for folks, especially black folks who’ve never grown up in a specifically more-trees, more country place. I want them to feel like they’re allowed to be here.”

Still in her first year, Barnes said she already appreciates the supportive space that the university has made for her, as a student and an active writer. So far, her professional career and her academic career have not conflicted, and she credits the English department trusting its students to take their studies seriously, with faculty being encouraging but not overbearing.

“I came down and visited after my acceptance, and it felt instantly like, ‘You’re going to be taken care of if you come to this place.” She adds, “What I like with the university is that, if you’re doing your thing, you can talk about how all parties will be benefited. They assume you won’t take it lightly.”

Barnes’s book is still in the editing process.