“Powerful feminist history … sweeping and detailed.” – USA Today

Shelley Puhak is the author of The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry that Forged the Medieval World and three award-winning poetry collections.

The Dark Queens received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, was selected as a USA Today Best Book of 2022 and an Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best History, and was excerpted in Smithsonian and TIME magazines. It is the remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule. The Dark Queens resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.

Shelley’s nonfiction has appeared in publications like The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and Virginia Quarterly Review; been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing; and designated as Notable in four editions of Best American Essays.

​Her most recent poetry book is Harbinger, a National Poetry Series selection (Ecco/HarperCollins 2022). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Cincinnati Review, Missouri Review, Shenandoah, and Verse Daily and been awarded the Anthony Hecht Prize, the Towson Prize for Literature, and two Maryland State Arts Council grants.

Shelley's Featured Titles


Ecco |

“The speaker in Shelley Puhak’s Harbinger is no closer to knowing herself than I am, than we are, which is why we trust her. Each similarly titled poem holds a triptych mirror up to the artist and, in so doing, up to us all, so we may better see ourselves as we are. In ever-changing form.” —Nicole Sealey 

A stunning meditation on artistic creation and historical memory from the winner of the National Poetry Series, chosen by Nicole Sealey

From “Portrait of the artist, gaslit” to “Portrait of the artist’s ancestors” to “Portrait of the artist reading a newspaper,” the poems in Harbinger reflect the many facets of the artistic self as well as the myriad influences and experiences that contribute to that identity.

“Portrait of the artist as a young man” has long been the default position, but these poems carve out a different vantage point. Seen through the lens of motherhood, of working as a waitress, of watching election results come in, or of simply sitting in a waiting room, making art—and making an artist—is a process wherein historical events collide with lived experience, both deeply personal but also unfailingly political. When we make art, for what (and to whom) are we accountable? And what does art-making demand of us, especially as apocalypse looms?

With its surprising insights, Harbinger, the latest book from acclaimed poet Shelley Puhak, shows us the reality of the constantly evolving and unstable self, a portrait of the artist as fragmentary, impressionable, and always in flux.

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World

Bloomsbury Publishing |
Historical Nonfiction

“A well-researched and well-told epic history. The Dark Queens brings these courageous, flawed, and ruthless rulers and their distant times back to life.”–Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times-bestselling author of Hidden Figures

The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.

Brunhild was a foreign princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet-in sixth-century Merovingian France, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport-these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms, changing the face of Europe.

The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a decades-long civil war-against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne’s empire. Yet after the queens’ deaths-one gentle, the other horrific-their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.

In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.

Guinevere in Baltimore

Waywiser Press |

Selected by Charles Simic as winner of the eighth annual Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, Guinevere in Baltimore comprises a sequence of dramatic monologues in which the infamous lovers Guinevere and Lancelot navigate their doomed affair in our own age of austerity. The pair examine love in all of its chemical, biological, political, and technological dimensions, ultimately asking readers to examine our own infidelities to our ideals.

Stalin in Aruba

Black Lawrence Press |

Stalin in Aruba is a hybrid of poetry and historical fiction, combining careful research with vivid imagery. Poems bring to life a cast of characters gathered from Stalin’s inner circle, American suburbia, Nazi Germany, post-Communist Eastern Europe, and nineteenth-century Baltimore.

Stalin in Aruba examines power-political, social, and emotional-and its abuses. How did a popular poet and a talented tenor become one of the twentieth century’s monstrous butchers? What intersections are there between the intimate lives of history’s monsters and our own? The title poem explores the thin line between Stalin’s photographic manipulations and our own white lies of digital enhancement. Other poems in this collection are dramatic monologues that give voice to the ordinary and the larger-than-life: Lenin’s widow talks back, a parish priest looks back, and a scrappy nineteenth-century schoolmarm rubs shoulders with Hitler’s four suicidal girlfriends.

Inhabited by popes and priests, dictators and daughters, Politburo wives and Nazi mistresses, addicts and embalmers, Stalin in Aruba explores how we resist and how we succumb to the banality of evil.


Why was the sixth century a golden age for female power?

Climate change and a worldwide pandemic; war and chaos. How did early medieval women turn these challenging circumstances to their advantage, managing not only survive, but flourish and even rule? And what are the implications for women today?


Erasing women: A case study

A look at some of the playbooks used to erase or minimize powerful women in the past, playbooks that are often in use today. This lecture focuses on why we all lose when women get written out of history and what we can do to help write them back in.


Workshops for Students or Youth Advocates


Poetry: The Art of Revision

Designed for students who have already drafted poems that they are open to revising. This workshop guides students in looking for (usually unconscious) patterns of sound in their own work and demonstrates ways to build upon these. Instead of approaching a poem from the perspective of what needs to be fixed? this workshop asks: what is already working?


Writing the Other: the Dramatic Monologue

This generative workshop is an exercise in radically shifting perspective, asking students to craft poems in someone else’s voice. Inspired by examples from published poems, students will be guided step by step in picking a historical figure and drafting a poem that inhabits their perspective.


Historical Research & the Personal Essay

This workshop makes use of a series of guided exercises to inspire those working on an essay or memoir to use historical research (anything from crime blotters to census records to fashion magazines) as a way to add depth and additional perspectives to their personal stories.

Shelley’s Essays and Articles

Press Mentions and Podcast Appearances

Honors, Awards & Recognition

USA Today Best Books of 2022
Amazon Editors’ Pick
Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist
National Poetry Series Winner
Anthony Hecht Prize Winner
Towson Prize for Literature Winner

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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