I chose my name, Lyra, like I chose this career path. When I heard it, it just felt right. Besides, I’ve always loved the idea of being named after stars and constellations. I’m a black, nonbinary poet from St Louis, and believe me, I never shut up about it. I’ve been writing since I was eight, although my writing started with silly comedy sketches (I grew up watching All That and The Amanda Show in the early 2000s, so there’s no shocker there), it evolved into something more graceful as I grew older and experienced more than fleeting childhood bliss. Between my parents’ divorce and school bullies, I had writing material for years on end. Naturally, in school we read Shakespeare, Beowulf, and the rest of the dead white man works, but beyond those assignments in the depths of the 2010s, I found myself infatuated with the uprising contemporary poetry scene. After school, I submerged myself in spoken word YouTube with Button Poetry’s channel, as well as speakeasynyc’s channel with gems like Phil Kaye’s original reading of “Repetition.” Investing in poetry and hearing about the individual worlds of my favorite poets helped pass the time on the drives between mom and dad’s house, and helped me put my own feelings into better words, even if only for my own ears.
Grade school through high school, I never really fit in, so my journals heard all the secrets I was too scared to tell anyone else. I often turned diary entries into poems, teaching myself how meter and syntax worked in a way that reads and looks good on the page. Part of the reason I didn’t fit in was because in the majority of STEM studies, I was subpar. However, when it came to English, I was the best in class. I grew to anticipate my peers’ faces when I would read my work in creative writing class—finally awe and not a smirk. I took the only creative writing class McCluer North High School offered my junior year, and I think that’s what sealed the deal for me when it came to choosing it as my college major. The class instructor, Miss Hobin, was often the only reason I managed to get out of bed back then. She was also the first instructor who told me I had genuine talent as a writer, which always stuck with me, even after she passed away in a motorcycle accident. I’ve always known whenever I release my first collection of poems, it will be dedicated to her.
Naturally, I went on to major in creative writing, but that’s not where life took me after graduating. Instead, I landed in a comfy Human Resources role that ended up propelling me into a three-year career in various big name corporations in the St Louis area. By 24, I was making about as much as my mom did at the peak of her educational career. Despite the financial comfort, the independence, and the beautiful apartment, I knew I wasn’t happy. I knew my life was incomplete without writing, and the burnout from the 8-5 life overpowered every urge in my soul to write. After being laid off and let go and every other wording of that phrase enough times, I decided I was tired of settling for a career I never even felt appreciated in—a field that never truly made me happy. I decided, why not apply to an MFA program? COVID-19 seemed to be making the world fall apart anyway, so that’s exactly what I did. In the Fall of 2021, I came back to my alma mater, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, for an MFA in Poetry.
Now, ten years after that first creative writing class, and two years since leaving what I now call “corporate hell,” poetry is my lifeline. I’ve never once regretted going back to school. I’ve re-dedicated my life to my craft and what I love the most, and I’m incredibly proud of myself for doing so instead of settling for the comfortable path with its too-short weekends and too-long days. Some say they can’t believe I gave it all up for college town pizza parlors and late nights writing through tears. I say I certainly took the road less traveled by.
Lyra Thomas is a black nonbinary poet from the St Louis area, currently residing in Carbondale, IL for their MFA in Poetry from Southern Illinois University, which is also their alma mater. They received their BA in Creative Writing in 2018. Lyra enjoys reading/writing poetry, curating Spotify playlists, and cuddling with their cats Max and Silver.