Adrian Matejka: “The Big Smoke” Reading

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878–1946) was a true American creation. The child of emancipated slaves, he overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxers—and white America—to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka’s third work of poetry, follows the fighter’s journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved. Matejka’s book is part historic reclamation and part interrogation of Johnson’s complicated legacy, one that often misremembers the magnetic man behind the myth.


Adrian Matejka is the author of The Devil’s Garden (Alice James Books, 2003) and Mixology (Penguin, 2009). He is the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, a National Poetry Series Award, the New York/New England Award, and a fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. He is also the 2018 Indiana Poet Laureate. Matejka teaches at Indiana University and lives in Bloomington with his wife, Stacey Lynn Brown, and their daughter.