Rebecca Gayle Howell is an award-winning poet, translator, and editor of place-based literature. As the granddaughter of Appalachian subsistence farmers, she centers the hope that ecological, economic, and human rights can offer those living in vulnerable regions. Howell regularly presents to audiences at venues like the Edinburgh Book Festival, the American Academy of Poets, No Kid Hungry, Southern Foodways Alliance, The Berry Center, and the Galápagos International Poetry Festival.
Howell’s books include two novels in verse: American Purgatory (Black Spring Press Group, 2017) and Render / An Apocalypse (Cleveland State UP, 2013), as well as two translations: El interior de la ballena / The belly of the whale, a Patagonian migration narrative by Claudia Prado (Texas Tech UP, 2024) and Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation (Alice James Books, 2011), Amal al-Jubouri’s Iraq War memoir-in-verse. Howell’s work has received critical acclaim from such outlets as The Los Angeles Times, Poetry London (U.K.), The Courier-Journal, Asymptote, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Millions, Arts ATL, MINT (India), and The Kenyon Review. Her Best Book of the Year honors include those from The Best Translated Book Awards, Foreword INDIES Awards, The Nautilus Awards, the Sexton Prize (U.K.), and The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation (U.K.), and both American Purgatory and Render were named Bestsellers of the Decade by Small Press Distribution. In 2023 Howell released What Things Cost: an anthology for the people (UP of Kentucky), co-edited by Howell & Ashley M. Jones, with all proceeds benefiting The Poor People’s Campaign. Called “the first major anthology of labor writing in a century,” What Things Cost received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named a Best Book of the Year by outlets like Ms. Magazine, Bitter Southerner, Book Riot, Southern Review of Books, and Poets & Writers.
Howell also collaborates with composer Reena Esmail to produce works for classical performance. Among their releases is A Winter Breviary, a series of interfaith eco-carols published by Oxford University Press (2022) and performed by such choirs as Voces8 (U.K.), The Los Angeles Master Chorale (U.S.), The Sixteen (U.K.), Kathmandu Chorale (Nepal), The BBC Singers (U.K.), Yale Ensemble (U.S.), and the Gesualdo Six (U.K.). A Winter Breviary has also been recorded twice in Great Britain, appearing on Choral Music from Oxford with the Gesualdo Six (2022) and A Winter Breviary: Choral Works for Christmas by St. Martin’s Voices (2023).
In 2019 Howell was named a United States Artists Fellow in Poetry. Among her other honors are The Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship for Writers and Musicians from the Carson McCullers Center, the Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship, and the Pushcart Prize. She is also the recipient of two winter fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (2010-2011, 2014-2015), where she now serves as an elected member of the Writing Committee. Her genre-bending writing is often underpinned by extensive documentary research, merging fiction, verse, and realism, gaining support from agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Foundation for Deep Ecology.
Since 2014, Howell has served as the poetry editor for The Oxford American, where she curates and commissions a new profile of Southern poetics. In 2016 she and her fellow editors received the National Magazine Award for General Excellence, and in 2023 they received the Whiting Award. A seventh-generation Kentuckian, Rebecca Gayle Howell makes her home in Northwest Arkansas, where she is a professor of poetry & translation for the University of Arkansas MFA program.