Parneshia Jones’ parents were set on her becoming a doctor or a lawyer.
So, when she transferred from pre-med to become a creative writing major at Chicago State University, “They were horrified,” she says.
But Parneshia, who was raised in Evanston, grew into a highly accomplished poet and was able to channel her talents into a literary day job as sales and subsidiary rights manager at Northwestern University Press. She’s also involved with numerous initiatives to make poetry more visible in the community and encourage young writers.
Parneshia has won the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award and the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies including “The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (Cave Canem Anthology) ” (Parneshia’s family migrated from the South), and “A Writers’ Congress: Chicago Poets on Barack Obama’s Inauguration.” She holds a graduate degree in poetry and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, a collective of Black voices from Appalachia. She wrote a book length manuscript of poetry with the help of a grant from Ragdale, a place she calls “life-changing,” and has performed her work all over the U.S.
At Chicago State, Parneshia was accepted to work privately with the renowned poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who encouraged her to pursue her poetry seriously. Six months later, Brooks died, and Parneshia did indeed pursue writing and community involvement in honor of her spirit.
“Gwendolyn Brooks was not just a writer, she supported writers,” Parneshia says. “Being a writer goes beyond pen and paper, it goes beyond a book. It’s about how you connect yourself to the community. Get your hands on people who haven’t written—some of the greatest poets never wrote a poem.”
To encourage young writers, Parneshia serves on the board of the community-based Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. In 2009, she was commissioned by Art for Humanity and the City of Chicago to write a poem for an exhibition at the 2010 World Cup. She also wrote a poem about the history of African Americans on the North Shore for the nonprofit Shorefront.
At her day job, Parneshia is surrounded by poets, novelists, filmmakers and playwrights. She travels the world, all for the sake of writing. Her parents no longer wish she had pursued a more stable profession. Instead, her mother nags her, “Have you written today?”