“This galvanizing anthology of poetry and short prose highlights experiences of economic exploitation and finds common ground across the working class. The editors’ introduction contextualizes the anthology within a larger labor movement inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968…This is a memorable and timely book.” — Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

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.

Rebecca Gayle's Featured Titles

The Belly of the Whale: Bilingual Edition (Desert Humanities)

Texas Tech University Press |
Spanish Poetry

In this South American epic, poet Claudia Prado imagines her ancestors’ nineteenth-century migration from the Basque Country into Argentina and, ultimately, southward into the oceanic desert. At its original publication in 2000, El interior de la ballena received Argentina’s National Fund for the Arts prize, helping usher in a poetics of Patagonia.

Prado’s poetry honors her homeland’s wide open desert and its ancient silences, offering a vision that braids intergenerational migrations into a chorus of monologues and intimate voices, all looking for home. Here speaks a woman who, against her will, is taken to that desert; here is revealed the thoughts of an orphan laborer; here, a chicken thief celebrates his sad prize.

In El interior de la ballena, Prado uses her page to privilege the often unseen and unheard, composing in silence as much as sound. When read together, the poems quilt a place, time, and lineage through a story of strong women, wounded and wounding men, and a rural and unforgiving landscape from which hardscrabble labor is the origin of survival.

El interior de la ballena | The belly of the whale is now rendered into English for the first time by award-winning poet and translator Rebecca Gayle Howell. In this completely bilingual edition, readers of either language can immerse themselves in Prado’s Patagonia, as well as this unique collaboration between Prado and Howell that begs us to ask if language itself is our endless migration.

What Things Cost: an anthology for the people

University Press of Kentucky |
Poetry/Short Stories

What Things Cost: an anthology for the people is the first major anthology of labor writing in nearly a century. Here, editors Rebecca Gayle Howell & Ashley M. Jones bring together more than one hundred contemporary writers singing out from the corners of the 99 Percent, each telling their own truth of today’s economy.

In his final days, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a “multiracial coalition of the working poor.” King hoped this coalition would become the next civil rights movement but he was assassinated before he could see it emerge as the Poor People’s Campaign, now led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. King’s last lesson―about the dangers of dividing working people―inspired the conversation gathered here by Jones and Howell.

Fifty-five years after the assassination of King, What Things Cost collects stories that are honest, provocative, and galvanizing, sharing the hidden costs of labor and laboring in the United States of America. Voices such as Sonia Sanchez, Faisal Mohyuddin, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Silas House, Sonia Guiñansaca, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Crystal Wilkinson, Gerald Stern, and Jericho Brown weave together the living stories of the campaign’s broad swath of supporters, creating a literary tapestry that depicts the struggle and solidarity behind the work of building a more just America.

American Purgatory

Eyewear Publishing |

Poetry. Winner of the 2016 Sexton Prize for Poetry (selected by Don Share of Poetry magazine), AMERICAN PURGATORY is a story of the working class, a dystopia set in a near-future United States marked by severe drought, herbicidal warfare, and a totalitarian climate of poverty. This purgatory is populated by those who believe that if they work hard enough, they will be set free. Against this backdrop, three unlikely characters begin a journey that will take them away from work, belief, and even each other, until the protagonist uncovers a truth about this place that indeed sets her free. Equal parts Dante and Cormac McCarthy, AMERICAN PURGATORY is a coming-of-age for capitalism written in the decade of tea-party terror.

Render / An Apocalypse (Cleveland State University Poetry Center New Poetry)

Cleveland State University Poetry Center |

Poetry. “To enter into these poems one must be fully committed, as the poet is, to seeing this world as it is, to staying with it, moment by moment, day by day. Yet these poems hold a dark promise: this is how you can do it, but you must be fully engaged, which means you must be fully awake, you must wake up inside it. As we proceed, the how-to of the beginning poems subtly transform, as the animals (or, more specifically, the livestock) we are engaging begin to, more and more, become part of us, literally and figuratively we enter inside of that which we devour.”—Nick Flynn

“This is the book you want with you in the cellar when the tornado is upstairs taking your house and your farm. It’s the book you want in the bomb shelter, and in the stalled car, in the kitchen waiting for the kids to come home, in the library when the library books are burned. Its instructions are clear and urgent. Rebecca Gayle Howell has pressed her face to the face of the actual animal world. She remembers everything we have forgotten. Read this! It’s not too late. We can start over from right here and right now.”—Marie Howe

“In every one of these haunting and hungry poems, Howell draws a map for how to enter the heat and dew of the human being, naked and facing the natural world, desperate to feel. I did not realize while reading RENDER how deeply I was handing everything over.”—Nikky Finney


Writing Place, Writing Your Place


Trust Your Gut: Foodways, Family, & Memory


The Animals Know: Deep Ecology & Creaturely Membership


Writing Rural


Listening & Seeing: Docupoetics


Verse as Fiction: Informing and Exploring the Imaginary


Writing the Complicated South


Re/writing Myth & Interfaith Healing


All Poetry is Translation

Say Your Name. A suffrage rights cantata written by Rebecca Gayle Howell and composed by Reena Esmail (A Piece of Sky Music – ASCAP, 2022). West coast premiere: Kirkland Choral Society and Philharmonia Northwest. Seattle, WA. April 27, 2024.

Rebecca’s Events Link

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Names INDIES GOLD Anthology of the Year (What Things Cost, 2023)
United States Artists Fellow
Carson McCullers Fellow
Fine Arts Work Center Fellow
Kentucky Arts Council Fellow
Best Translated Book Award, finalist
The Sexton Prize (U.K.)
Pushcart Prize
Nautilus Book Award
The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, finalist (U.K.)
Small Press Distribution Bestseller of the Decade

Media clips

Media Kit

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where you can download author photos and cover images.

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