Current City, State, Country
Birth City, State, Country
Cynthia Atkins (she/her) is the author of Psyche’s Weathers, In The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books), and Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press, 2020), and a collaborative chapbook from Harbor Editions, 2022. Her work has appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, BOMB, Cider Press Review, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Indianapolis Review, Los Angeles Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Permafrost, SWWIM, Thrush, Tinderbox, and Verse Daily. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College. She is an Interviews Editor for American Micro Reviews and Interviews. She earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist, Phillip Welch and their family.
What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?
My relationship to Judaism is complicated. I am the daughter of two Jewish, divorced parents from Chicago, Illinois. I have no formal background and I wasn’t Bat Mitzvahed like my brother, Bar Mitzvahed. For many years, I did not feel close to my religion, and felt a bit of shame over it. In Chicago, the wealth of the suburbs always felt like it was more about status, and I associated Judaism with this culture. We always went through the motions of the high holidays, but and we lit shabbat candles on Friday night. My mother was a nursery school teacher at Beth El Synagogue, and this gave her a little more reason to follow traditions and rituals.
Then I moved to NYC to do my MFA in Poetry at Columbia and felt similar and somewhat removed from religion in general. It wasn’t until I moved to the South in Lexington, Virginia that I became more interested, curious, proud and connected spiritually. Here, in the small Jewish community in a small college town in the South—all of the sudden, I felt more of a minority (then in Chicago or New York) and felt this small community and culture treated Judaism in a much more ‘earthy’ and stoic way than I had experienced it before. I felt connected as a poet and a Jew. I became a mother and raised my son as a Jew, even though I am happily married to a non-Jew. We attended the Hillel services and Friday Shabbat and other holidays. My son was schooled in Hebrew by two local Jewish women and a rabbi that he facetimed with. My son took the birthright trip to Israel and I have enjoyed watching this whole process, and have contributed where I could. But because it is such a small Jewish community, I have more of a kinship and more like I need to carry ‘a banner’ here in a small southern town, where anti-semitism has reared its head.
As a poet, I have felt that poetry always my place of prayer, spirituality, and questioning. I have also many times questioned the dogmas of religion and the inherent misogyny in religion, so I have had many conflicting emotions, which I am not ashamed to admit. My three books all have poems about my connection, confusion and celebration of my relationship to faith and Judaism.
Duets (Harbor Editions, 2022)
Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press, 2020)
In The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books, 2013)
Psyche’s Weathers (CW Books, 2007)
Links to Sample Works
University of Illinois, B.F.A., M.A.
Columbia University, M.F.A.