Thylias Moss’s poetry has changed dramatically across her oeuvre. Her intellectually and aesthetically complex multimedia experiments stand out in this generation of poets. Her twelve books, while focusing mainly on poetry, span memoir, verse narrative, children’s literature, and drama. She is the only one of these poets to win a MacArthur Fellowship (popularly known as “the genius grant”), in 1996.
Moss was born on February 27, 1954, in Cleveland, Ohio. Moss’s childhood was both nurturing and traumatic, as she had a stable, affectionate family life with warm and loving neighbors, yet during her elementary school years she was sexually abused by her babysitter (detailed in her 1998 memoir, Tale of a Sky-Blue Dress) and witnessed the violent deaths of children. Her experiences with racism in a mostly white school district worked against her advancement as a highly gifted child, and high school became a hostile place to her. She experienced a lot of personal problems in her high school years, which she traces to the experiences of trauma and abuse. Moss attended Syracuse University from 1971 to 1973, and married John Moss in 1973. Moss returned to college in 1979 at his urging and earned her BA in English from Oberlin in 1981, then an MA in English from the University of New Hampshire in 1983. She has two sons, Dennis and Ansted. From 1984 to 1992, Moss was on the faculty of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. She is currently a professor at the University of Michigan, which hired her in 1993. She now holds a joint appointment in the English and Art and Design departments.
Moss’s earliest work showed the influence of the Black Arts Movement in its emphasis on social commentary and employment of a mostly narrative style. The early poems are accessible, reflective, and grounded in attention to everyday humanity. Her poetry today transcends the page: writing within an aesthetic frame she terms “Limited Fork Poetics,” Moss’s “poams,” as she calls them (“products of acts of making”), draw upon olfactory, visual, sonic, and tactile dimensions. Her current work is available