By Abriana Jetté
Sayreville, NJ, USA

Three years ago, for the Summer 2015 edition of Stay Thirsty Magazine, I wrote about Brynne Rebele-Henry’s evocative voice and her poetry’s tendency to scratch at the mystery of being. Since then, she has become the youngest writer ever to receive the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry and has won numerous awards for her writing, including the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose, the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a 2017 Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner.

This Fall, I caught up with Brynne Rebele-Henry to talk about the journey that has led her to such distinction.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: You’re the youngest recipient of The Donald Hall Prize in Poetry to date. What effect do you think your age has on your work with regard to your process of writing and publishing, and all that rests between?

Brynne Rebele-Henry

BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY: I started writing and publishing when I was fourteen when I wrote my first book, Fleshgraphs, and a draft of my first novel. I’ve been living with the protagonists in my first novel for so long it feels like I almost grew up with them.  I started the book when I was younger than my characters are and I’m now older than them when the book starts. I think writing about young lesbians as a young lesbian gave me an immediate insight into representing that experience. I’m turning 19 this fall, so I’ve been publishing for five years now.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Your debut collection Fleshgraphs used prose-poetry to address complex issues of the body, womanhood, desire, and fear. It is highly influenced by our #IRL [In Real Life] dystopian internet culture. What influences do you see online and digital spaces having on the literary community? 

BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY: Online journals, social media, and the internet in general has made literature more accessible, particularly for young people, and to find representation in books, which is a beautiful thing to witness.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Much of your work revisits ancient tales and takes what’s already quite dark and makes it darker, sadder, at times more intimate. Your upcoming YA [Young Adult] novel, Orpheus Girl, modernizes the characters and narrative of the myth in a way that highlights prominent social issues surrounding homophobia, innocence, and loss. What about myth intrigues you most? Why Orpheus?

BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY: I grew up reading myths, and I’ve always loved the tradition of taking these ancient stories and continuously reshaping them over hundreds of years. No one retelling is exactly the same. I think there’s such a potential in that, which is why I’ve always loved writing about myths. Orpheus has always intrigued me because I’ve always found it to be such a tragic story of loss and a failed search for redemption. My novel is about conversion therapy, but at its heart, it’s a lesbian love story.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: For me, it’s Persephone. The going. The returning. The pull between two worlds. Orpheus is that embodiment of music and myth, of course. All myth is music and history and lesson wrapped in one. Which is also poetry. Your writing contains multiple forms – how has being a poet informed your fiction? What pulled you towards the fiction form for this story? What makes you decide between a poem, a piece of fiction, or a piece of nonfiction?

BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY: I do actually have a story about Persephone! I love that myth too.

I’m primarily a novel writer. Fiction is the genre that I wake up every morning and start writing. I started writing because I wanted to write stories for gay girls. When I was growing up, I read constantly, but as a lesbian, I never found narratives or representation for women like me. It’s a lonely experience, to have to strain to see yourself in the girls you grow up reading about, which is why I started writing.

I think each genre I write serves a different purpose: for fiction, I choose stories that I think in order to be understood, one needs to live inside of. I write almost exclusively in first person in my novels for this reason. To be able to illuminate what it’s live inside of this experience or identity. With poetry, I write in snapshots, like each poem is a polaroid picture. I love figuring out all of the intricacies of creating the world of a novel and trying to figure out how to construct and contain the essence of a life within a few hundred pages. I think with novels you have to almost become your protagonists, that a part of them always lives within you. That’s my favorite part of writing novels: deciding who to become.

ABRIANA JETTÉ: Reflecting on the past five years of your literary life, what are some of the most significant moments for you? Where do you see yourself in five years?

BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY: This past summer, I was a featured poet at the Juniper Institute for Young Writers which I attended as a student when I was fourteen. It was so special to be able to return and to give a reading there. I also just got back from Slovenia a couple weeks ago, where I was a poet at the Poetry & Wine festival, which was a really wonderful experience. I was reading in a lot of different venues, some of which were in these little towns in the Slovenian mountainside, which was a magical experience. My first novel is coming out next fall, and my second poetry book, Autobiography of a Wound, just came out, which I’m very excited about as well!

In five years, hopefully, I will have finished an MFA (I’m still an undergrad). I hope to have finished writing more books and branched into screenwriting as well.

Brynne Rebele-Henry 
Abriana Jetté 


Abriana Jetté is an internationally published poet, essayist, and educator from New Jersey. Her work has appeared in dozens of journals, including the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg ReviewThe Iron Horse Literary ReviewThe American Literary Review, and 491 Magazine. She teaches at St. Johns's University and the City University of New York, writes a regular column for Stay Thirsty Magazine that focuses on emerging poets and she is the editor of The Best Emerging Poets of 2013 that debuted on Amazon as the #3 Best Seller in Poetry Anthologies, the author of 50 WHISPERS that debuted on Amazon as the #1 Best Seller in Women's Poetry and the recently released 50 WHISPERS - Vol. II. Her newest anthology, Stay Thirsty Poets - Vol. 1, will be released in December 2018.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.