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Much has been made about which books presidents and presidential candidates consume. Pete Buttigieg caused a stir this year when he named "Ulysses" his favorite text in New York magazine in a list of 10 books that included only one work written by a woman and none by women of color. And former President Barack Obama released his own “summer reading list” last month with a slew of fiction recommendations, including Toni Morrison, Lauren Wilkinson, Nicholas Carr and Stephanie Land, to many bibliophiles’ great excitement.
While many politicians may appreciate literature, one has a poet working on her direct team.
Camonghne Felix is the director of surrogates & strategic communications at Elizabeth Warren for President. But the young black poet has another line to add to her resume as of late. Last week, she was nominated for a National Book Award in poetry for her debut collection, “Build Yourself a Boat.”
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“Build Yourself a Boat” is about the trauma and pain that accompanies black womanhood and explores romantic relationships, sexual assault, abortion, police brutality, among a variety of other themes. The collection was a 2017 University of Wisconsin Press Brittingham & Pollak Prize finalist & a 2017 Fordham University Poets Out Loud semi-finalist.
"One of the first things I was thinking a lot about is the way that the literary world requires us to categorize ourselves in order to be legible or readable. Something I wanted to push back at really hard in this collection was using the word Black as a way to define Blackness," Felix said in an interview with Electric Literature about “Build Yourself a Boat.” "Among all of the other things happening in the book, I think what’s at its core is the trauma of being a woman and the trauma of being a black woman."
Felix joined Warren’s team in June. She was formerly the senior manager of communications at the Ms. Foundation for Women, the oldest feminist organization in the country. In 2015, she became the first African American female speechwriter and youngest speechwriter to serve at New York State governor after she was appointed Speechwriter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Felix told Electric Literature that she is currently working on another poetry collection titled “Dyscalculia,” which she says is about heartbreak.
Among the other nine books nominated for the National Book Award in poetry are "Variations on Dawn and Dusk” by Dan Beachy-Quick; “The Tradition” by Jericho Brown; “Deaf Republic” by Ilya Kaminsky; and “Be Recorder” by Carmen Giménez Smith.
“I don’t have the words to thank all of you the way I would like to, but just know, I only imagined this in my wildest dreams and never imagined that there would be so many people sharing this with me,” Felix wrote on Twitter. “If I never win the NBA or any other award in life, this would be enough. Love u.”
Felix is not the only writer on Warren’s team. Roxanne Gay, who wrote the acclaimed works “Hunger” and “Bad Feminist,” recently endorsed the presidential candidate.
Warren, for her part, has an affinity for the classics. At an event in Iowa City last week, she revealed her favorite book is Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” according to journalists present.
“Because it's about an observant woman who cuts through all of — I know Jane would never call it this — but the BS," Warren said.