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Professor Amorak Huey: a writing career with a Ha Ha Ha Thump

Local professor Amorak Huey discusses his recent publications, including his upcoming full-length poetry collection and other influences on his writing.
Amorak Huey reading at Poetry & Pints

Amorak Huey reading at Poetry & Pints /Photo by Adam Schuitema

Further information:

  • Visit Amorak Huey's website to learn more about his publications, including appearances in The Best American Poetry 2012  and Poet's Market 2014.
  • Willow Springs offers three samples from The Insomniac Circus and Huey's comments on reading and writing. 
  • Sundress Publications announces Huey's forthcoming poetry collection, Ha Ha Ha Thump.

Amorak Huey has worked in the world of writing nearly all his adult life. Now in his seventh year as a writing professor at Grand Valley State University, he is an award-winning member of the Grand Rapids writing community. Although Huey was born in Kalamazoo, he was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. There he earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Birmingham-Southern College and spent 15 years as a reporter and editor for six newspapers. He later returned to Michigan as an assistant sports editor for the Grand Rapids Press, receiving his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University.

"I liked the whole thing about newspapers immediately,” he said. “There's no delayed gratification. There's always something to work on, and there are constant deadlines and results from your work." Rapid advances in technology have changed the way we access news, however, and ultimately Huey’s departure from journalism came down to an emotional realization. “I left the newspaper business, but it left me first.”

After a decade and a half as a journalist, Huey would eventually make the transition to poetry. “I had a vague sense that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what that meant,” he said. Teaching has guided this transition, and Huey points out that it helps in his writing. "It's good for finding motivation," he said. "I'm surrounded by others with the same interests and I'm constantly having to articulate what I think about writing to my students, so I have to keep doing that for myself."

The past year has been a highly productive one for Huey. His most recent releases include a poetry chapbook titled The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014), and his first full-length poetry collection, Ha Ha Ha Thump, which is due to be published through Sundress Publications this year. On this newest collection, Huey added: "It's about 60 pages in manuscript form, but hasn't reached the final edit yet. It's roughly love poems, but about different versions of intimacy and marriage." The title comes from the joke 'What is the sound of someone laughing his head off?'" alluding to the idea of humor with consequences.

Huey's path towards being published hasn't been easy. "You have to develop a thick skin towards the word 'no,'" he said. "About two percent of your work gets accepted. It's a lot of work, a numbers game really. You need to keep writing and take every step of the process seriously. A stopping point is not a good thing." In regards to publishing The Insomniac Circus he says, "Books are hard in a totally different way. This chapbook was always meant to be a chapbook, but it was rejected 24 times before it finally found a home."

Huey has found that the Grand Rapids area has a great deal to offer local writers. "It's a quietly vibrant writing community," he said. "Aquinas, Calvin, Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, Grand Valley's own Student Reading Series, Stella's Open Mic Night, and Poetry & Pints at Harmony Brewing Company are great opportunities for local writers, just to name a few."

While the publishing process is never an easy one for a writer, Huey stresses the importance of perseverance. "You just have to keep writing. It's always about the next piece," he said. The transition from journalism to poetry is not easy for any writer, but Huey remains positive. "Reading is different now," he said. "It's changing, but it's not dead."

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