by Marie Williams (SHS) 2002
The poet Susan Prospere was born March 28, 1946, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Clarence Greene and Jane White Prospere. She moved around a lot because her father was an F.B.I. agent, and her family was transferred often. They lived in New York City, Long Island, Niagara Falls, Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, Tennessee; New Orleans, and Natchez, Mississippi. They returned regularly to the family farm in Natchez, Mississippi, which is “home” for her and the center of most of her work. About Mississippi Prospere says, “Living in Mississippi has influenced my writing because it has always been the center of my emotional or interior life. Because we were transferred often by the F. B. I., my father’s employer, the visits to my grandmother’s farm in Natchez, Mississippi, became the most constant part of my life. Additionally, it is the place that represents family for me. It is a mysterious place and reflective outwardly of my interior landscape. I know of nowhere else more inexplicable in all the best and worst ways. I have loved other places in the way one may fall in love with another person; however, I have loved Mississippi in the way that one loves and knows one’s self.”
Prospere attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and Louisiana State University (LSU), but she actually graduated from Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville, Mississippi. She has a law degree from Tulane University and an M.A. from the University of Houston creative writing program.
Prospere has lived in Rome, Italy, and Oxford, England. She worked as an au pair in Oxford, England, and taught English in junior high, in high school, and at the University of Houston and Rice University in Houston, Texas. She did not take the bar exam after she got her law degree, but instead she moved to Houston for the graduate writing program. She is divorced and has no children, but she has two English bulldogs and two cats. Her parents still live on the farm in Natchez. She has one brother in Los Angeles and another in Natchez.
Prospere’s first volume of poems, Sub Rosa (1993) published by W. W. Norton, has been praised for its richness and emotional strength. The reviewer for the New York Times called the poems “startling and transformational: an extraordinary debut.” Prospere’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry Field, Antaeus, and the American Scholar. She has been the recipient of the Nation/Discovery award, the PEN Southwest Houston Discovery award and an Ingram Merrill grant.
Today Susan Prospere lives in Houston, Texas, where she is a consultant/attorney for the Fort Bend County Municipal Utility District No. 25.
by Marie Williams (SHS)
The poems in Sub Rosa are mostly autobiographical because Prospere talks about her life with her family and friends. She talks about her childhood and her adulthood. She call her poems “the process of transforming one thing into another. The changes are rapid and magical and the language they occur in is brilliant and assured.” Many of the poems are intimately addressed to another person, sometimes it is a lover, or a friend, or a family member. Also the poems are based upon liberal and subconscious experience. She uses extraordinary and rich language.
by Marie Williams (SHS) 2002
What influenced you to write poetry?
My grandmother, who, along with her brother, ran Jefferson Military College in Natchez, MS, inspired me to be a writer and often made up fairy tales that she would tell me. I initially wanted to write stories/novels but could never think of plots; therefore, I became interested in poetry that was less insistent on a narrative.
What is your place of birth, birth date, parents’ name, high school, and college?
Oak Ridge, TN; 3/28/46, Clarence Greene and Jane White Prospere; Natchez-Adams High School; B. S. from Mississippi State Univ.; J. D. from Tulane Law School; M. A. from Univ. of Houston Creative Writing Program
Upon what are your poems based?
My poems are largely autobiographical, based on literal and subconscious experiences. After working consciously for some time, I suddenly discovered the process of letting the subconscious get to work; bringing forth subject matter that is not consciously manipulated. I became interested in language as the primary subject of poetry and its inevitable journey into meaning.
When did you become interested in writing poetry?
I became interested in writing poetry as a teenager after becoming less interested in pursuing fiction.
What kind of student were you in high school/college?
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took approximately five or six years to write Sub Rosa.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
Gary Myers of the Mississippi State University English Department and a former fellow classmate at the University of Houston suggested that I write a poem titled “Sub Rosa,” which I did. Later it seemed appropriate for the entire collection because of its meaning that derived from the practice of conducting secret meetings under a rose; poetry, or at least the poetry I am interested in, is always subversive/subconscious in some way.
Have you received any awards?
Ingram Merrill grant; National Endowment of the Arts grant; winner of Nation/Discovery Award, PEN Southwest Houston Discovery Award, Mississippi Arts Festival poetry prize; finalist for Los Angeles Times poetry prize; New Yorker Notable Book of the Year
Do you have any advice for students today?
My advice for students is to read, read, read.
Is your name a pen name?
My name is my legal name, not a pen name. (It is also my maiden name, so it is not Mrs. Prospere but Ms. Prospere.)
How has Mississippi influence your writing?
Living in Mississippi has influenced my writing because it has always been the center of my emotional or interior life. Because we were transferred often by the F. B. I., my father’s employer, the visits to my grandmother’s farm in Natchez, MS, became the most constant part of my life. Additionally, it is the place that represents family for me. It is a mysterious place and reflective outwardly of my interior landscape. I know of nowhere else more inexplicable in all the best and worst ways. I have loved other places in the way one may fall in love with another person; however, I have loved Mississippi in the way that one loves and knows one’s self.
Did you base the poems in the book Sub Rosa on people you know or knew?
Most of the people who figure in my poems are family members or other persons with whom I have been intimately involved. I have not written many poems outside that realm.
Are you currently working on a new book? What is it called? When will it be published?
I have not written any poems for some time, largely due to work constraints and perhaps to “writer’s block” that is unclear to me. I hope to retire to Mississippi someday and to continue writing. What better place to live out one’s days–and nights?
- Reviews of Sub Rosa
- Discussion of poem “Heart of the Matter”
- Sub Rosa: Poems Review by Publishers Weekly
- List of poems by Prospere in The New Yorker. Clicking on title with bring up poem.
- Link to into about Prospere in Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth
- Prospere, Susan. Sub Rosa. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1992.
- Prospere, Susan. Personal Biography. 9 December 2002.
- “Biography: Susan Prospere.” 9 December 2002
- Prospere, Susan. Personal Interview. 10 December 2002.