Biography

childhood and education

Billy Merrell was born on January 7, 1982, in St. Louis, MO, and raised in Jacksonville, FL. He studied writing and photojournalism at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and the University of Florida before receiving his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University.

early publishing history

In 2003, at the age of 21, Billy published his first book of poetry, Talking in the Dark with Scholastic’s PUSH imprint—for which Instinct magazine called him “an unreasonably young poet with an unreasonable amount of talent.”

In 2006, he co-edited (with David Levithan) The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award. He co-edited an expanded edition of The Full Spectrum, which Knopf published in 2016.

Photo of Billy Merrell, taken in 2005; photo by Mehmet Erdoğan
Billy Merrell, 2005; photo by Mehmet Erdoğan
poems and poetry advice

Billy’s poems have appeared in the print anthologies Best Gay Poetry 2008The Best Young Writers and Artists in AmericaDivining Divas21 PromsA Face to Meet the Faces, among others, and in David Levithan’s experimental novel, The Lover’s Dictionary.

Most recently, his poems and translations have appeared in NADA’s Contemporary Poetry ZineGay & Lesbian Review WorldwideGuernicaGulf Coast, and Brooklyn’s Slice Magazine.

In 2017, he contributed an essay to Signature’s,  The Writer’s Guide to Poetry.

debut fiction

In 2017, Scholastic’s PUSH imprint published Vanilla, Billy’s debut novel. In poems, Vanilla tells the story of three queer teens (two of which are four years into a relationship) and how their love changes amid the turbulence of self-discovery. In a starred review for Booklist magazine, Michael Cart sums Vanilla up as “a feast for those hungry for character-driven literary fiction.”

writing for children

Billy also writes stories for children. He is a co-author of two books in the New York Times bestselling Spirit Animals series and has written three original ebooks for Scholastic. He’s also written collections of Mad Libs for Penguin Random House, including popular tie-ins for the Bob’s Burgers television show.

Photo of Billy Merrell, taken in 2017; photo by Manjari Sharma
Billy Merrell, 2017; photo by Manjari Sharma
today

Billy Merrell currently lives near the gates of the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, with his husband, the writer Nico Medina.

More about Billy Merrell
trivia

• Billy has published translations of poems by Wang Wei, an Tang dynasty Chinese poet and painter who lived more than 1,250 years ago.
• For several years after grad school Billy helped develop the content strategy of Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets.
• Billy was as an extra for the film adaptations of two David Levithan novels: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, and was on set for the filming of Every Day, his favorite YA novel. (Squeeee.)
• Billy has designed covers for poetry books and literary magazines.
• Billy once blogged for NYC’s 92nd Street Y cultural center.
• Billy knits scarves, drinks green juice, practices yoga, divides irises, and bakes cookies.
• Billy married his husband, Nico, in Florida in 2008, seven years before gay marriage was legal there. (They legalized their union in 2010, in Washington, DC.)
• Billy and Nico appear on the cover of Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time, compiled by Elisa Rolle
• Billy has read his poems on the radio three separate times, and hopefully will again.

lesser-known trivia

• Billy lived in Mobile, AL, for one year as an infant.
• Billy was first published when his fourth-grade report on the planet Uranus was included in a McGraw/Hill textbook.
• Billy appeared as a zombie (for about a second) in the music video for Tiny Masters of Today’s song “Hologram World,” directed by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
• Billy once rode with legendary actress Lauren Bacall in a freight elevator full of garbage bags.
• Billy ghost-wrote four kids books for a popular reality television personality.
• Billy studied Poetry Comics with his poetry comic idol Bianca Stone.
• Billy likes to draw pug faces when signing his books. (Come to one of his readings! Billy would love to draw a pug for you!)

Billy Merrell Online

• Billy is on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.
• Here is a Q&A with Billy from 2003.