CAITS MEISSNER is a New York City-based poet, artist and cultural worker, and the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016). She currently serves as the Prison and Justice Writing Program Manager at PEN America, and teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“In an age of humble bragging, viral narcissism and false modesty, it’s invigorating to be in the presence of true vulnerability. Sometimes it’s expressed as timidity or hesitation, but always it reveals another layer of unexamined darkness. Other times, these revelations are brazen, even proud, acceptances of the weird, unexplainable, tricky nuances of human behavior. [Meissner's] Let It Die Hungry is a daring call for self-acceptance, an invitation to feast on our true selves, and to live fully.”
— Jahan Mantin, Columbia Journal
the whole story
Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let it Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016), and The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (Well&Often, 2012), a limited edition book co-authored with poet TIshon Woolcock. The recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including the BOAAT Writers Retreat and The Pan-African Literary Forum, Caits' work is published in journals and anthologies including The Literary Review, Narrative, Adroit, Drunken Boat, VIDA Literary Review, The Feminist Wire and The Offing. Caits holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York where she where she was awarded The Jerome Lowell DeJur Prize in Creative Writing, an Educational Enrichment Award and The Teacher-Writer Award.
A multidisciplinary creator, Caits experiments with writing's relationship to visual art and sound. She holds a BFA in Communication Design from Pratt Institute and has used her illustrated and design skills to create comics, zines and other illustrated material. In 2010 she released the wolf & me, an album that Okayplayer named "an impressive blend of poetry, singing and stellar production that takes on a variety of complexions." Erykah Badu called her blend of poetry and music, "Fresh, honest and loving," with "a delicate heart like mine."
Invested in the transformative, restorative, and change-making capacities of imagination and creativity, Caits' has an extensive history in community arts work. Before her role as Prison and Justice Writing Program Manager at PEN America, Caits was an integral team member in developing and implementing programs for organizations such as Tribeca Film Institute, The Bronx Academy of Letters, Urban Arts Partnership, The Facing History School and The Lower Eastside Girls Club. She has facilitated, consulted, and co-created for 15 years across a vast spectrum of communities, with a special focus on imprisoned people, women and youth. At the university level, she has served as part-time faculty at The New School, The City College of New York, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she currently teaches.
In addition to her work with over 50 organizations and institutions, Caits has launched numerous community-based projects from the ground up. Among them, The #GrowFierce community (2012-2015) was an intensive writing curriculum that supported over 500 women worldwide in creative expression and self-examination that matured into State-sponsored cultural exchange in Malaysia, live youth and prison programs, and a series of public events. In 2017 Caits reenvisioned the concept of book tour, pairing public speaking engagements with opportunities to work with incarcerated writers across the United States. The Humans That We Are Prison Poetry Tour received grants from The Puffin Foundation West and the Pollination Project, and was an honorable mention for Split This Rock's 2017 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism. Reaching, the creative writing workbook she created as a take away for each classroom she visited, is now available as an online PDF download for free use and distribution.
Visit Caits' LinkedIn profile for more information about her community work.
“Caits Meissner writes in the tradition of Levertov and Forche. A clear eyed witness with an intense lyric sensibility, her poems illuminate the shadows of self and society that lie outside the margins of acceptable discourse. There is no point at which she endeavors to comfort or assuage. Which is to say, Meissner is that rare poet who can simultaneously and sincerely give a damn... while also giving zero fucks.”
— John Murillo, author of Up Jump the Boogie
FOR LET IT DIE HUNGRY
Editor's pick on NewPages Book Stand,
Recommended book on Small Press Distribution
Interview about the book appears on Tricycle Magazine's Trike Daily
Poem from book featured in BUST magazine
The prison poetry tour for the book featured in Huffington Post
OTHER SELECT PRESS
Radio Reading & Interview, WKCR's Studio A
In the Spotlight Community Feature, Association of Writers & Writing Programs
The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You review in Pank Magazine
Adding Colour to the World, Unreserved Magazine, Malaysia
Live Radio Interview, BFM Radio, Malaysia
Using Poetry For Change, Spook Magazine, Australia
Sharing and Connecting Through Poetry, The Citizen, Tanzania
recognition, honors & awards
RECOGNITION, AWARDS & GRANTS
Nominee for Best of the Net by Split This Rock (2018)
The Teacher-Writer Award, City College English Department Awards (2017)
Art & Social Change Grant Recipient, The Puffin Foundation West (2017)
Honorable Mention, Split This Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism (2017)
Social Change Leader Seed Grant Recipient, The Pollination Project (2016)
Educational Enrichment Grant Recipient, City College of New York (2016)
Nominee for Pushcart Prize by Duende (2016)
The Jerome Lowell DeJur Prize in Creative Writing, City College English Department Awards (2015)
FELLOWSHIPS, RESIDENCIES & WORKSHOPS
Participant, Tin House Summer Workshop (2018)
Finalist, The June Jordan Fellowship, Columbia University (2017)
Fellow, BOAAT Writer's Retreat (2016)
Artist Residency, Drop Forge & Tool (2016)
Artist Residency, Turkey Land Cove Foundation for Women (2016)
Ja’Nai First Place Scholarship Winner, Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway (2014)
First Place Fellowship Winner, OneWorld Poetry Competition, Pan-African Literary Forum (2008)