Summer 2017
Feature Story

Lives of a Poet

The creative journey of Yona Harvey, a poet and Pitt English professor, spans decades and melds literature, community, and even comic books. It all begins in a little pink room in Mount Healthy, Ohio.
Illustrated by
Em DeMarco

Last summer, Yona Harvey, the poet and University of Pittsburgh writing professor, sojourned to the flatlands of Illinois, to a quiet, pastoral artists’ colony just outside of Chicago. She was there to make progress on a memoir that chronicles the death of her sister.

One evening, yearning to take a break from the solitude of writing, she walked to a nearby coffee shop. Free to connect with the world, she text-chatted with her friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the noted author, MacArthur “genius grant” winner, and national correspondent for the Atlantic. She hit send of a text congratulating him on his recent collaboration with Marvel Comics and the revival of its “Black Panther” series.

Coates texted right back: “You want to write one?”

With that question, Harvey, a winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, was drawn into a history-making journey. Not long after, she signed the contract, becoming one of the first African American women to write the stories of Black female characters for Marvel’s “World of Wakanda.”

Harvey built the genesis tale for Zenzi, a revolutionary figure who lives in Wakanda, a fictional African society. The issue, debuted in November 2016, sold more than 300,000 copies.

A few months ago, Marvel again worked with Coates and Harvey on a limited edition of “Black Panther and The Crew,” a series about heroes set in Harlem, N.Y. Part of Harvey’s assignment was writing for the character Storm, who can fly and has the power to manipulate weather. Harvey is the first African American woman to write for the character.

But before the stories of Storm and Zenzi, there is the story of Harvey. We pick it up in a Cincinnati suburb, in a little pink room …


This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Pitt Magazine.