A Family is a House

THE TITLE: A Family is a House.

THE AUTHOR: Dustin Pearson.

THE EDITOR: Andrew Sullivan.


About C&R Press: “We love books. Literature matters because words let us explore and share the best of what we think, and who we can be. Good fiction, nonfiction, and poetry grow our knowledge and imagination, take us into new lives, and illuminate truths we never knew.”

“For thousands of years, books were how content was shared. Today, C&R Press is pushing into new media, while keeping the best of what always made books great.

“So we’re looking for talented authors, and poets, both new, and established, whose work we help refine, support, publish and promote. And, through their works, continue to grow the reading public’s love of reading, writing, crafting, and dreaming.

“Since 2006 we’ve helped writers and readers prove literature is an essential part of life and culture, and thirteen years later, we’re still doing it.

“Long live books!”

SUMMARY: My friend, the poet Brandon Rushton, wrote this description of A Family Is a House:

“Pearson’s debut introduced us to a master transmogrifier. In this surreal follow-up collection he investigates the architectural implications of inheritance—how the human body houses the violence of its forebears. A Family Is a House is a blueprint, a guide to the logical structures and spaces we build in our minds: sometimes to keep our secrets in, sometimes to keep the horrors out. Pearson offers us an answer to the toughest question: what happens when our secrets are our horrors? We build, compartmentalize, and quarantine. We refract, reflect, demolish, and burn. This is a book about the oldest partition—that thin wall between the dark and the light. This is a book about bravery, about severing oneself from a lineage of abuse. When the hands that feed us also beat us, we must beat them back with the gifts we’ve been given. Through Pearson, we relearn that language can be weaponized into a kind of magic that saves us.”

THE BACK STORY: I wrote A Family Is a House to show how abstract and disorienting violence can become when it grows out of something as foundational as the experience of family. How does one grow into an awareness of violence when it’s normalized so early on? What shape does that awareness take and how does one express that awareness within a family unit? I think we can underestimate how difficult it can become to formulate an understanding in the absence of an explanation. Maybe this underestimation can be attributed to a lack of imagination. The characters in A Family Is a House have powerful imaginations, but I imagine it’s hard to evaluate the totality of what that means for them. They somewhat recognize how things make them feel but often struggle to connect how they feel to judgments of right and wrong or good or bad, so imagination plays a part in offering them an alternative. As they get older, this distortion of experience grows more pronounced. This isn’t the experience of the reader, however.

I wrote A Family Is a House during the second and third year of my MFA program. I made slight edits to the manuscript after workshopping the book in a workshop during my doctoral program. I guess that puts the total time of composition at about 3 years.

WHY THIS TITLE?: There are so many parallels between the idea or construct of family and a house. Every character or object that compiles the construct has a role to play and when there’s dysfunction, there’s an implication for the entire unit.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think family will always be an obsession of human beings. It’s an endlessly complex and emotionally loaded experience, but I think what sets my book apart is the display of imagination. There’s strangeness in the image and mediation, but there are also lyric truths that resonate wildly, so I picture that combination of familiarity and strangeness being a worthwhile and unique reading experience.


“In Dustin Pearson’s new book a sibling is said to have a tail so long it can be wrapped twice around the house, and a mother’s mouth is likened to a stove that her children stoke with wood. One might want to say these images are surreal, but the Pearson speaker speaks strange things so believably that there is no way to take them as anything other than the literal truth. Here, figuration is no excuse and no escape. I think of the fearlessness of Sharon Olds, and I think of the biological horror of David Cronenberg, and I think it’s all Dustin Pearson, laconic but lush, straight-faced in the panic.” – Josh Bell, author of Alamo Theory

“Dear reader, you will see the ways that nothing works in the house this family builds, this house of absence and abuse, where the brothers hold themselves together as they “take / their spreading bruises and scabs outside / and try to make nothing from them.” In Pearson’s poems, the boys—knowing nothing else—don’t especially recognize their pain, speak lightly of their fears, and endure with devastating calm the “blind slither to nowhere” that is their father’s gentlest path. Pearson’s boys suffer and survive in real and surreal ways: despite everything, they “follow [their] dad everywhere,” and then they find that their father “follow[s] them into mirrors.” The poems reckon with both masculinity and the imagination, the way the latter might intensify our fears, might also lift us through and beyond them.” – Sally Ball, author of Wreck Me

“In Dustin Pearson’s A Family Is a House we are gifted with a new surreal pantheon dissecting the mythology that arises from family. A brother’s tail that grows uncontrolled across a neighborhood. A mother who becomes a furnace, burning everything in her path. A father who leaves drippings of flesh for his children. In this stunning collection the violence and terror are palpable – we’ve known it in our homes, we know it in our nation. This book is an incredible, visceral experience from one of the most striking and necessary voices in poetry today.” – Glenn Shaheen, author of Carnivalia

AUTHOR PROFILE: Dustin Pearson is the author of A Season in Hell with Rimbaud (BOA Editions, 2022), Millennial Roost (C&R Press, 2018), and A Family Is a House (C&R Press, 2019). In 2019, The Root named Dustin one of nine Black poets working in “academic, cultural and government institutions committed to elevating and preserving the poetry artform.” In 2020, a film adaptation of his poem “The Flame in Mother’s Mouth” won Best Collaboration at the Cadence Video Poetry Festival. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and The Anderson Center at Tower View, Pearson has served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a director of the Clemson Literary Festival. His writing has been recognized and featured by Shonda Rhimes and further distinguished by the Katherine C. Turner and John Mackay Shaw Academy of American Poets Awards and a 2021 Pushcart Prize. His work also appears in The Nation, Poetry Northwest, Blackbird, The Boiler, Bennington Review, TriQuarterly, The Literary Review, The Cortland Review, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Toledo where he teaches creative writing.

Alternatively, my social media handles are all @dustinkpearson. I’m the most fun on Instagram.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: One of my favorite writers is David Ignatow. In an interview, he was asked: In your poems where you show your anger do you feel a danger in having your vulnerability misunderstood? He responded: I couldn’t care less. This is what I have to feel, this is what I have to write. This is the life, this is the life. I’m living it.

Ignatow’s response is a basic metric for how I keep myself producing worthwhile writing.


https://www.shondaland.com/watch/a27133126/visual-poetry-project-the-flame-in-mothers-mouth/ LOCAL OUTLETS: https://www.crpress.org/shop/a-family-is-a-house/

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Small Press Distribution, Barnes & Noble

PRICE: $16

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: https://dustinkpearson.com

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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