Telling his story
Alumnus Mark Jay Brewin Jr. ’08 has found success in following his passion for poetry.
By Taylor Sharp ’16
Mark Jay Brewin Jr. ’08 is a poet. But if you ask him, he would tell you he is a storyteller—for if you listen, he says, the world is full of stories to tell and journeys to share.
“Everybody wants somebody to know that they exist,” Brewin says. “The little journeys we have, and telling others about them, is where the driving force of my work exists.”
Brewin tells some of those stories in his first collection of poetry, Scrap Iron, which won the prestigious Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry and was published in April. The prize is awarded annually and is sponsored by The University of Utah Press and The University of Utah Department of English. The contest is open to any poet writing in English.
Brewin had entered a handful of poetry contests and was amazed and humbled when he learned his manuscript had won. “A lot of my life is really just lucky moments,” he says. “And those lucky moments are also where a lot of my work comes from.”
Brewin graduated from Elon with a double major in art and English with concentrations in creative writing and photography. He credits many of his Elon professors with inspiring him and shaping him into a more mature and focused artist.
“... While I was at Elon, I would watch Kevin Boyle, Cassie Kircher, Drew Perry, Tita Ramirez and others, and how dedicated they were to their craft. They were balancing a teaching load, doing a lot of important things,” Brewin recalls. “I remember sitting down with Drew Perry, and asking him how he handled teaching and writing. I wondered if one career had begotten the other. He told me, ‘It’s all about you and your love of the word on the page. When you wake up tomorrow morning, are you going to want to get up and write? Or are you going to want to have breakfast first?’ It was that devotion to writing that inspired me.”
It’s not surprising that Brewin, in turn, has become an inspiration for one of his mentors.
“I wish I could make the leaps of imagination and association that Mark makes in his poems, seemingly so effortlessly,” says Boyle, who nominated Brewin for the 2013 Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumnus in the Arts and Humanities Award. The two worked closely while Brewin was an undergraduate and have kept in touch throughout the years. “He’s the real deal—passionate, intelligent, with a great ear I hope he never cuts off. In his poetry, the world of the unfettered imagination cohabits very nicely with the world of work, sadness, emptiness and distance.”
After Elon, Brewin received a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and went on to teach a public speaking class at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. “It was fun,” Brewin says about teaching. “It was nice to connect with the students and interesting to see them use creative writing to compose thought-out, intelligent papers.”
But Brewin decided to discontinue teaching in favor of traveling and writing. Much of his debut book centers on the legacy of his father, a hardworking blue-collar worker, and the complex family dynamics resulting from moving away from his home in New Jersey. His work also focuses on the stories of others—people he met at Elon, coworkers at summer jobs as a young adult, residents at a retirement home where he once worked and those he met while studying abroad. “People have opened up to me in ways I couldn’t expect,” Brewin says. “I’m so grateful for it.”
Now back in North Carolina, Brewin is working on his second book, which will focus on travel and love. More specifically, hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his wife, Jessica Keough ’07, whom he met in a photography class his junior year.
“Elon was where it all began for me,” Brewin says. “This place, these people I met here. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the inspiration that was sparked those few years ago. Let’s hope I never do.”