Tina Mozelle Braziel, program director of the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop, is the recent recipient of the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, which includes the publication of her debut full-length book, Known By Salt. Hailing from Pell City, Alabama, Braziel is a first-generation college student. In 1995, she received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Montevallo, then her master’s degree in English at UAB in 2002. She earned her master of fine arts degree in poetry at the University of Oregon in 2013.
We spoke to Braziel about the inspiration for her upcoming book and her experience working with the high school students in the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop in the UAB Department of English.
A&S: The final judge called Known By Salt a “book of celebrations.” What inspired your book?
TMB: For one thing, living in Alabama. For another, the biodiversity here. Then there are things that I think are sometimes maligned, such as people that are part of the working class. My dad’s a construction worker and probably the most intelligent person I’ve met. He started out as a laborer’s helper. From there, he worked his way into a position where [his peers] were all educated as engineers. He was self-taught, and I like to celebrate that, too.
Also, my husband and I built our house ourselves—we had to teach ourselves. I wanted to celebrate that and what I learned from that experience. [These poems] are a culmination of celebrating where I come from and what I value from this Alabama life.
A&S: After earning your master’s degree from UAB, where did your career path take you and why did you decide to come back to UAB?
TMB: Between my M.A. and M.F.A., I taught at UAB as an instructor of English for a total of seven years…but I wanted more time to write and more instruction, so I decided to get the M.F.A. The Workshop drew me back to UAB. It is what I am most interested in doing—teaching creative writing and opening doors for students. As a first-generation college student, I know how important it is for kids to go to college. It was huge for me, so I enjoy trying to open the door to UAB and other schools.
A&S: Tell us about the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop.
TMB: I’ve been involved with [the Workshop] in some capacity since its inception; I kind of think of it as my baby. It’s a wonderful program that brings a diverse group of [high school-age] students together. There’s a really nice synergy that happens. [The students] all become very invested in each other’s writing and in each other. That’s the best outcome: the connections that happen between students. They create wonderful work, but I enjoy that they find new friends and are exposed to different people.
Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Photo: James Braziel, courtesy of Tina Mozelle Braziel.