Ju’Juan Day MFA ’20 Self Publishes First Poetry Collection, Footsteps

Day discusses his new poetry collection about the day-to-day experiences of a Black adolescent male transitioning into maturity, and how his time at Columbia helped him publish this work.

Ju’Juan Day MFA ‘20 did not feel like his peers growing up. Born and raised on the southeast side of Chicago, Day found himself more sensitive, creative and joyful than those around him. The first time he felt seen was in middle school, he began writing and performing songs for his friends. Then a few days later they would rehearse his songs back to him. It was then that Day realized he would become a writer. 

More recently, Day self-published his first poetry collection about the day-to-day experiences of a Black adolescent male transitioning into maturity, delving into subjects such as mental and physical abuse, the building of self-awareness, fantasies of human interaction, and connections to musical art.

Here, Day discusses his new book and how his time at Columbia helped him publish his first collection:

I’d like to characterize you in this story, can you give me background on you, your story and what drove you to this point in your life? 

I was born and raised on the southeast side of Chicago, with a sentence like that you are bound to experience a dosage of hatred. I depict myself as a person who has always been an outsider growing up believing that no one relates to me because of my being—a Black creative male in an environment that totally negates the idea of simply being a sensitive, creative, and joyful antithesis towards normalcy and boredom. Growing up, I always knew I had a gift of storytelling through songwriting. I sang my songs to a group of students in middle school one day and days later they began to rehearse my songs for me, that’s when I knew I was destined to become a writer—they got a glimpse of me. My interests grew in writing and provoked me to not only write songs but poetry and skits. Writing became an outlet for me to express a severed life of bullying, depression, and abuse but also love, joy, and absolute fun. I felt this was a necessary time to release my book because I want to be a voice for outsiders/misfits who never fitted in but always led a path for others to journey to freedom despite shame and judgment.

Can you share the title of the book and a brief synopsis?

The title of my debut book is entitled Footsteps. Footsteps is a poetry collection that investigates the day-to-day experiences of a Black adolescent male transitioning into maturity, delving into subjects such as mental and physical abuse, the building of self-awareness, fantasies of human interaction, and connections to musical art. These poems follow the confessional tradition of verse. 

When was the book published? How did you get it published?

The book was published in the beginning of September 2021. The book is readily available for purchase for paperback copy and Kindle eBook, here.

I decided to self-publish my book, however I worked with Evan Brown, a business coach, that helps others produce monumental ideas, like me, hence his company’s name—Vision Birthers. Him and his team worked productively to execute my vision by creating my book cover, editing my material (checking for grammatical errors, placement of poems, etc.), and making sure my book was readily available on Amazon.

What inspired you to write this book, is this topic personal for you?

I felt it was time to share my story. For a long time, I was ashamed of what people thought about me. I was always ashamed growing up listening to music made by women such as Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, and many others. Mainly having interests in things that a typical Black male from the southeast of Chicago are not really interested in such as singing, acting, writing, etc. This was a journey for me to be vulnerable because I spent years being silent, not letting others get to know the real me. When I was younger, I have been through mental, physical, and sexual abuse and I could not find anyone to talk with about what I have gone through because there was no one available to actually say, “I am here when you need me.” But most importantly, I want to lead a path. A path of people who have been silent/silenced for so many years to finally place their feet on the ground, stand up, and walk. I noticed when I talk with most teenagers and even young adults, they do not share much about their personal lives because they have never seen an example of someone who has been adamant about pursuing freedom but most importantly being able to voice it. Also, toxic masculinity is notorious in the Black community among Black men and our society needs to develop a whole new pedagogy that encompasses Black men walking in freedom and not being held towards a set of “rules.”

How did your experience at Columbia help you write and finish your book? Are there any Columbia faculty that helped you throughout the writing process? If so, how? 

When I entered Columbia, I was very bashful about my experience, being that I have only let a select few view my writing and I was a bit inexperienced with poetry, however I viewed my songwriting as a sense of poetry. I made sure that I was disciplined enough to commit to my writing and produce quality work. Being in an environment where everyone wants to become a better writer pushes you to another level towards expertise. By pushing myself forward in that area, I took advantage of several opportunities to meet professors during their office hours.

All of the Columbia faculty helped me towards my writing, but the ones I found myself drawn to were CM Burroughs and Lisa Fishman. Being in CM Burroughs class was therapeutic for me because she helped me to acknowledge a lot of trauma I have gone through and actually write down my memories thoroughly. I took it upon myself to visit her during her office hours and she provided me with books to read from authors that look like me and discuss similar topics such as mental abuse, toxic masculinity, bullying, etc. Lisa Fishman was my former thesis advisor and helped me explore more of my creativity by suggesting more creative routes that would ignite my poems more and providing more prompts that would take me out of my comfort zone.

How did your time at Columbia College help you become a better writer?

While attending Columbia College Chicago, my professors and peers introduced me to a wide range of writers and techniques that I never knew. They did not hold back any criticism that was necessary for my potential growth in writing, and I humbly appreciate that. The coursework I received from my professors really pushed/helped me to explore myself creatively by simply being a well-rounded learner. Simply being a student and remaining teachable gave me an urgency to want to become a better writer, but ultimately a better being. While I attended Columbia, I became a Graduate Student Instructor teaching Writing and Rhetoric I & II to undergraduate students. I remember assigning papers to my students encouraging them to express themselves through writing and while I have read and graded those papers—I was able to see more of the individuals’ personality and thoughts through their writing than in the classroom setting, don’t get me wrong, their charisma was present in-person but to actually see it more on paper was mind blowing. With that mentality, I felt it was critical to make sure that I kept that proclamation devoted to myself—to always express yourself thoroughly so others can view your story. Also, I really love Columbia’s artistic environment—I felt like I belonged. I have always shared with others, Columbia is like an incubator producing profound creatives that are ready to change communities but also on a larger scale, the world.

What was your major and when did you graduate? How did you decide on this major? 

I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May 2020 with a MFA degree in Poetry. I knew right after I graduated with my BA degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Roosevelt University, I wanted to go straight into getting my masters. So, I researched a veritable plethora of schools that had a major for writing. However, when I looked upon Columbia, I had no idea there was such a thing as majoring in creative writing in a master’s program—specifically poetry. While I was so accustomed to listening and seeing individuals major in careers such as law, education, political science, I took a leap of faith in majoring in poetry because I love being a creative and since no one around me has ever seen a person major in such a peculiar field—I wanted to be the first.

Would you advise a prospective student to attend Columbia College, and if so, why? 

Absolutely! If you want to explore your creativity and be in an environment that appreciates your craft, Columbia is the place to be. There will always be assistance to further you in your art whether it comes from a potential peer or professor. Also, it is in downtown Chicago where you get to see Chicago’s scenery on an everyday basis. 

What advice do you have for current students?

Continue to be yourself. Do not compare your art with someone else’s because you are made/born to be different—so be it. Make sure you take advantage of every opportunity that arrives because you may never know where it might lead you. Talk to your professors during their office hours, you will learn so much and have more knowledge towards the field that you are studying.