Books

Rapture
(Graywolf Press, 2016)
Debut Collection

Rapture Cover

“What McCray accomplishes here is to convert private suffering into nobility, in terms that are recognizable to a reader yet irreducibly strange, like another person’s life always is. “Rapture” the noun derives from the Latin raptus, “seized”; Rapture the book pulls the reader correspondingly close. This is a fine debut indeed.”–The Los Angeles Review

“This is a highly controlled, musical book that privileges flawlessly smooth sound and evocative moodiness, but there is no lack of story here, either. Rapture delves deep into visceral material, mapping family and the human body and the relationships that concern both.”Ploughshares

“War permeates this book of revelations torn from the author’s gut and is presented honestly to us—the reader. We are lucky to have these poems and better off for reading them.”The VVA Veteran

“Rapture is an exquisite first collection…McCray promises to become an outstanding voice in American letters…These are breathtaking poems filled with grace and emotion.”–The Journal

“These are arresting, richly corporeal poems about the self as defined by race, family, and sexuality, and forged in rapture.”Booklist

“McCray is at his best when he limns arousal, desire, the body in ecstasy, and the heart in the throes of devotion.”O, The Oprah Magazine

“[McCray] drills deep to get to the truth. . . . He talks without fear. He means what he says. Each line moves up the scale and increases the risk but Sjohnna doesn’t back down. He sweetens the ache of courage with craft. I think he has word power. I believe in him.”Washington Independent Review of Books

“A stunning glimpse . . . . This is a new kind of primary source in which McCray explores all kinds of origins: parental, familial, personal. . . . McCray refuses to yield in this collection. None of his poems, none of the people in them, are singular. They come together into a collective identity that is Rapture.”Sycamore Review

“With each poem in this very personal collection, McCray digs deeply into his experience to craft an identity that embraces the complexity of his life without denying it.”Shelf Awareness

“[McCray] uses mythic language to explore generational and personal identities, found in cultural and wartime memories, with uncommon elegance.”BookTrib

Rapture is the well-deserved winner of one of America’s most prestigious first-book prizes, the Walt Whitman Award. McCray’s two chief subjects in the collection―his father’s experiences in Vietnam and his own sexuality―intertwine in fascinating ways.”Santa Barbara Independent

“These poems are beautifully crafted, courageous in their truth-telling, and full of what I think of as lyrical wisdom–the visceral revelations that only music, gesture, and image, working together, can impart. Not only did they stop me in my tracks, but also they changed me as a person. Sjohnna McCray’s is an ecstatic and original voice, and he lends it to family, history, race, and desire in ways that are healing and enlarging. Rapture announces a prodigious talent and a huge human heart.”―Tracy K. Smith, from her judge’s citation for the Walt Whitman Award

“Sjohnna McCray’s blunt, rapturous poems make me think of Dinah Washington singing, ‘Maybe this world is not so bitter after all.’ Despite the debris of his life, time has made Sjohnna McCray tender, too. I will always remember the sweetness on these pages, mixed up with Stygian darkness, like a little hope for humankind.”―Henri Cole

“McCray explores his father’s experiences in the Vietnam War, reeling them into personal reflections on his own identity.”The Huffington Post

“This collection looks to be one of the most accomplished debuts of the year.”―Jonathan Sturgeon, Flavorwire