Questions & Authors: Sean Hill, Hal Prize poetry judge

Rooted in place, movement and remembrance, Sean Hill’s poetry explores what it means to be a part of, and outside of, a community. 

His first collection of poetry, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, was named one of the Ten Books All Georgians Should Read in 2015 by the Georgia Center for the Book. His second body of work, Dangerous Goods, won the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry.

In addition to being the judge for the 2023 Hal Prize in poetry, Hill is the director of the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference at Bemidji State University and an assistant professor in the creative-writing program at the University of Montana.

During a recent podcast episode, Hill and I talked about his first steps into poetry, the themes he explores and what he’s looking for in Hal Prize submissions.

The following is an excerpt from a Door County Pulse Podcast that has been edited and condensed for clarity. Listen to the full podcast here>>

Grace Johnson (GJ): Growing up, was getting into poetry something that you had expected or wanted to do?

Sean Hill (SH): I got into poetry through a love of language and a desire to tell stories. I was a reader growing up and read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and I liked those stories and wanted to become a writer. But there weren’t any creative-writing courses, so I didn’t know how to do that. So I had a lot of failed stories.

The world-building stuff was really fascinating to me, but making the characters do things – I couldn’t figure that part out. It wasn’t until I was in college that I thought, “Maybe I should write a poem,” and I realized, “Oh, I can do that.”

GJ: Both of your books center around themes of place, travel, history and belonging. How did you find yourself homing in on these topics?

SH: Looking inward and looking outward as I am, trying to understand what’s happening around me, is what the work comes out of. 

The first book [Blood Ties & Brown Liquor] came out of wanting to learn more about my family, and the women in my family, and what their lives were like before I was born. There is actually a series of poems in Blood Ties & Brown Liquor that are drawn from an interview that I conducted with my maternal grandmother. 

Those poems are the core of the project, and looking at how the people in my community – the Black community – in Milledgeville [Georgia] lived their lives.

GJ: As poetry judge for our contest, what are you looking for in submissions?

SH: I am looking to be surprised, to be taught something. I am open to all kinds of styles of writing. I am interested in place and home, so how people think about those things would attract my attention.

I am interested in a poem that is going to make me think about something I thought was familiar in a new way, or think about something that I thought was strange in a familiar way.

Submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography are open for the 2023 Hal Prize. Learn more and submit at

Winning and honorable-mention submissions to the Hal Prize are published in 8142 Review. Copies of Vol. 1 and 2 – which feature the work of the 2021 and 2022 winners, respectively – are available for purchase at