Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s most recent book of poetry is Negative Money (Soft Skull Press, 2023), which was a finalist for the New England Book Award. Their previous book, Travesty Generator (Noemi Press, 2019), won the 2018 Noemi Press Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s 2020 Anna Rabinowitz prize for interdisciplinary work, was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Their other books include Personal Science (Tupelo Press, 2017); a slice from the cake made of air (Red Hen Press 2016); and But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise (Red Hen Press, 2012), chosen by Claudia Rankine as the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Saltman Award. Their new chapbook, written with AI, is called A Black Story May Contain Sensitive Content and won the 2023 Diagram/New Michigan chapbook contest. Bertram’s other publications include the chapbook cutthroat glamours (Phantom Books, 2012), winner of the Phantom Books chapbook award; the artist book Grand Dessein (commissioned by Container Press), a mixed media artifact that meditates on the work and writing of the artist Paul Klee and was acquired by the Special Collections library at St. Lawrence University; and Tierra Fisurada, a Spanish poetry chapbook published in Argentina (Editoriales del Duende, 2002). They collaborated with the artist Laylah Ali for the exhibition booklet of her 2017 art show The Acephalous Series.
Bertram has published poetry, prose, and essays in numerous journals. Their honors include a 2017 Harvard University Woodberry Poetry Room Creative Grant, a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, finalist nomination for the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Cave Canem, and others. Their essay “To find kisses pressed in books: 100 Years of Gwendolyn Brooks” was featured on the Poetry Foundation’s website in the fall of 2016, where they have previously blogged for Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s blog.
Bertram described their writing process to Mass Poetry: “I never know when what I am going to write will become a poem or something else. This can be a very fraught task. Sometimes what I am writing does not want to be a poem, but something else: a fragment of a larger text that I have yet to conceive or a collage. I think that like most writers, I am always scribbling down a thought in a notebook or on some scrap of paper or post-it note, whatever is handy. From time to time I take a moment, set out all these scraps of paper and notes before me and transcribe them into a document. Maybe a poem comes out of this, but maybe not. Sometimes lines or ideas suggest themselves for other poems that are already in progress but perhaps abandoned and using this method they are given a new life.”
Bertram holds a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from the creative writing program at the University of Utah, among degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They direct the MFA in creative writing program at the University of Maryland. They have previously taught at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, St. Lawrence University, Ithaca College, and Williams College, and directed the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Festival.