Dr. Irène Mathieu


Irene Mathieu two

As a writer and physician I am curious about how experience is embodied and transmitted across generations. My debut poetry collection orogeny draws on both science and invented mythology to diagnose the fractures of our world, and is a testament to my belief that collective healing is interdisciplinary. My most recent book, Grand Marronage, is a multigenerational lyric that explores the intersections of performance, privilege, and oppression in the lives of New Orleans Creole women.

I have always been interested in the stories that don’t make it into dominant narratives, and the therapeutic potential of listening to and telling these stories. In both my careers I champion diverse methodologies of storytelling that can be used subversively – from community-based qualitative research to persona poems. How might the ways in which we tell our (hi)stories help us in the pursuit of a more just and peaceful world? How might we employ language to achieve inclusive social narratives? Core themes in my work include ecopoetics, feminism, racialization/racism, intersections of privilege and oppression, silence(s), and the ethics of advocacy in both writing and medicine.

It’s apt that one of the central images of orogeny is that of Pangaea because Irène Mathieu broke me, over & over & over & infinite. Orogeny takes its reader across many different histories–of family, of continents, of violences, of sciences, of dirts, of fears, of soils, of loves–and every one is bigger than the last. It asks its reader, “what do I deserve?” and while the reader stares at it in amazement it answers “everything inside the moon.” In an existence as fractured as this one, orogeny is not just the myth that we need; it’s the then (& now & future) that we deserve. — Mark Cugini, author of I’m Just Happy to Be Here, managing books editor, Big Lucks Books

Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician, writer, and public health researcher who has lived and worked in the United States, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, and elsewhere. She is the author of three poetry collections—Grand Marronage (Switchback Books, 2019), which won Editor’s Choice for the Gatewood Prize; orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), which won the Bob Kaufman Book Prize; and chapbook the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press & studio, 2014). She has received Yemassee Journal’s Poetry Prize, Honorable Mention and Editor’s Choice awards in the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry contest, and runner-up for the Cave Canem/Northwestern Book Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewNarrativeBoston ReviewThe Caribbean WriterSouthern Humanities ReviewLos Angeles ReviewCallalooTriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Irène has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She serves as an editor for Muzzle Magazine and for the Journal of General Internal Medicine’s humanities section.

Irène is interested in medical humanities, social determinants of health, trauma-informed care, global public health, and medical education. She holds a BA in International Relations from the College of William & Mary, holds a MD from Vanderbilt University, and completed her residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is currently an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia. For more information please visit her website: irenemathieu.com.

More titles by Irène Mathieu


“a foolish controversy over the color of the skin “

a woman passing as a pecan
a woman breaking open a pecan and
passing as its beige meat.
a woman passing as a fig tree’s bark
a woman passing as a fig
a woman passing as swamp water after rain,
and a man passing as a pinewood floor.

a man passing as a piano
his voice passing as honey-colored notes
floating above a crowd of masked revelers,
a man passing as cypress
a man passing as the prow of a ship run aground
a man passing as a bowl of clabber
or a bowl of molasses.

have you ever heard of such a country
where a woman passes for an oak banister
and a man passes for a leather-bound Bible,
or a book of law?

what you see here is a true phenomenon:
a man is disguised as a shoe in need of polishing
and a woman is burnished and heavy as a worn saddle.
little boys and girls are made of dried sassafras,
nutmeg, burnt flour, and clam shells.

hold one of our small, round babies in your hands
and see how it turns into a chicken’s egg before
your eyes.