Last year, when his collection Olio won the Pulitzer Prize, Tyehimba Jess became one of the best-known living poets in America. Jess has been celebrated in poetry circles for years, of course - leadbelly, a previous collection, won awards in 2004 - but Olio, published by Seattle publisher Wave Books, became an instantaneous must-have collection. Ironically, the fact that Wave was overwhelmed by the demand for Olio might have helped the book's success: it made Olio a must-have book, an object of desire that lasted much longer than the Pulitzer's glow might have lasted.
Jess is an artist who seems custom built for this moment in history. His poetry reflects the rich history of music of Black America - the blues, the gospel, the work songs, the jazz - and he's rewriting the nation's history to make more space for Black stories and songs.
It's often complicated when a Black writer achieves success in white circles. Ta-Nehisi Coates famously rejected calls to assuage white guilt, or to provide cute answers, or to become the next James Baldwin. And Jess's poems - which examine the idea of minstrelsy, and other ways in which Black songs can become harmful entertainment for white America - have been wrestling with this success from the very beginning.
This Sunday, Seattle Arts and Lectures is bringing Jess to McCaw Hall. Almost a full year after his Pulitzer win, it seems very likely that Jess will have something new to say about success, and about the fickle spotlight of fame in 2018 America. The only thing we know for sure is that Jess won't say exactly what white audiences will want him to say. Instead, he'll say what they need to hear.
*McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, http://lectures.org, 7:30 pm, $20.