Harryette Mullen

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Harryette Mullen is an American poet, short story writer, and literary scholar who was born on 1 July 1953 in Florence, Alabama. She grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, graduated from University of Texas, Austin, and attended graduate school at University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Mullen began to write poetry as a college student in a multicultural community of writers, artists, musicians, and dancers in Austin, Texas. As an emerging poet, Mullen received a literature award from the Black Arts Academy, a Dobie-Paisano writer’s fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters and University of Texas, and an artist residency from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. In Texas, she worked in the Artists in Schools program before enrolling in graduate school in California, where she continued her study of American literature and encountered even more diverse communities of writers and artists.

Mullen was influenced by the social, political, and cultural movements of African Americans, Mexican Americans, and women in the 1960s-70s, including Civil Rights, Black Power, the Black Arts Movement, Language poetry, Movimiento Chicano, and feminism. Her first book, Tree Tall Woman, which showed traces of all of these influences, was published in 1981.

Especially in her later books, Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, Muse & Drudge, and Sleeping with the Dictionary, Mullen frequently combines cultural critique with humor and wordplay as her poetry grapples with topics such as globalization, mass culture, consumerism, and the politics of identity. Critics, including Elisabeth Frost and Juliana Spahr, have suggested that Mullen’s poetry audience is an eclectic community of collaborative readers who share individual and collective interpretations of poems that may provoke multiple, divergent, or contradictory meanings, according to each reader’s cultural background.

Mullen has taught at Cornell University, and currently teaches courses in American poetry, African American literature, and creative writing at the University of California, Los Angeles. While living in Ithaca and Rochester, New York, she was a faculty fellow of the Cornell University Society for the Humanities and a Rockefeller fellow at the Susan B. Anthony Institute at University of Rochester. She has received a Gertrude Stein Award for innovative poetry, a Katherine Newman Award for best essay on U.S. ethnic literature, a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Her poetry collection, Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002) was a finalist for a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize.


  • 1 Works
    • 1.1 Poetry
    • 1.2 Short stories
    • 1.3 Critical Essays



  • Tree Tall Woman, 1981
  • Trimmings, 1991
  • S*PeRM**K*T, 1992
  • Muse & Drudge, 1995
  • Sleeping with the Dictionary, 2002
  • Blues Baby, 2002
  • Dim Lady, 2003
  • Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse and Drudge, 2006

Short stories

  • "Bad Girls" and "Pica," in Her Work: Short Fiction by Texas Women, 1982; "Bad Girls" was reprinted in Lone Star Literature, 2002
  • "What Can't Be Measured", in South by Southwest: Contemporary Texas Fiction, 1986
  • "Sugar Sandwiches", in Lighthouse Point: An Anthology of Santa Cruz Writers, 1987
  • "Tenderhead", in Common Bonds: Stories By and About Modern Texas Women, 1990; reprinted in The African American West, 2000

Critical Essays

  • 'Runaway Tongue: Resistant Orality in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Our Nig, and Beloved", The Culture of Sentiment, 1992
  • "Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness," Diacritics, 1994; reprinted in Cultural and Literary Critiques of the Concept of 'Race', 1997
  • "'A Silence Between Us Like a Language': The Untranslatability of Experience in Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek", MELUS Journal, 1996
  • "African Signs and Spirit Writing", Callaloo, 1996; reprinted in African American Literary Theory: A Reader, 2000, and The Black Studies Reader, 2004
  • "'Apple Pie with Oreo Crust': Fran Ross’s Recipe for an Idiosyncratic American Novel",

MELUS Journal, 2002

  • "'Artistic Expression was Flowing Everywhere': Alison Mills and Ntozake Shange, Black Bohemian Feminists in the 1970s", Meridians, 2004
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