Personal Space

A one on one conversation with Tina Mozelle Braziel

Poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, who is about to publish her first collection of poems, Known by Salt, grew up on the lake in Pell City. Life on the water fed her love of nature, which also informs her writing with poems that revel in the rich landscape and wildlife of Alabama. The book is being published as part of the Levine Prize for Poetry—named in honor of the late poet and professor emeritus Philip Levine—which Braziel recently received from the Creative Writing Program at California State University, Fresno.

Braziel directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop, a creative-writing program for high school students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and also teaches creative writing at the UAB Alys Stephens Performing Art Center’s ArtPlay.

B-Metro: When did you first realize you enjoy writing and have a gift for it? 

Braziel: I went to a small Christian school, and they were putting together an anthology of the creative work of different schools from the same religion. So they asked us to write something, and I wrote a poem, turned it in, and the teacher said, ‘I wanted you to write your own poem.’ So at that point I thought, maybe this is something I can do well, because she didn’t think it was mine. That stayed with me, and when I did undergraduate work at the University of Montevallo, I had a wonderful English professor my first semester who said, ‘You have talent as a writer.’ That was really huge for me.

B-Metro: Tell me about your childhood.

Braziel: I grew up in Pell City. My dad was an avid fisherman, so we moved to the lake when I was in the second grade, and my parents still live there. A huge part of our lives was swimming and fishing and being on the water, so that really resonates and informs my work, that life on the water.

B-Metro: What did you do before becoming a full-time writer and teacher?

Braziel: I worked as a wilderness counselor at Glenwood, working with the delinquent boys, which was really great. And while I was there, a friend of mine took a poetry writing class from Linda Frost at UAB. I was so jealous. She invited me to join an informal workshop that happened after that class, and that’s when I decided I wanted to come to UAB and study poetry. So I always tell people to pay attention to what they’re jealous of. That might be an indication of what you’re really into.

B-Metro: Tell me more about Known by Salt.

Braziel: It draws a lot from my life. The first section talks a lot about where I grew up, and growing up on the lake, and about my dad being a construction worker, and the final section talks a lot about me and my husband. It (explores) a lot of those connections between family, a sea of building and construction, and what that has transformed into for me.

B-Metro: Speaking of building, I understand you and your husband actually built your house yourselves in Remlap, Alabama.

Braziel: We did. We call it the glass cabin, because my father-in-law was at church, and they said the church was going to replace the plate glass that protected the stain glass windows, and anybody who wanted that plate glass could have it. So we got a bunch of huge panes of plate glass and that kind of set the design for the home. We tried to use as much recycled materials as possible. It’s still a work in progress, but we love it. It’s a very comfortable house and really pretty. People like it.

B-Metro: On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about having won the Philip Levine Prize and seeing Known by Salt published?

Braziel: It’s probably a 10, because I’ve been working for this for years. So it’s huge. It’s the biggest thing to have a book published, particularly through this prize, because it’s named after Philip Levine, who is a poet I really admire. He came from a working class background, like I do, and he’s huge. I feel particularly honored and humbled to be connected with him in any way. 

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