Claudia Cortese

Poet & Teacher

Claudia Cortese's first full-length book, WASP QUEEN, is a novel-in-verse—a collection that focuses on Lucy, "Cortese’s recurring character, our 'wasp queen'—who permeates this collection with stingers and Barbie heads, gauze, shopping malls, cul-de-sacs, wisteria, Ohio, Oreos and Ring Pops, Rainbow Brite, mirrors, fire, swear words, period blood, milk teeth, 'the popular girls,' dirt, chicken fingers, Cheetos, lawn elves, masturbation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dirty Dancing, ribbons, rot, and milkshakes" (Emily Corwin, Indiana Review). Coming of age in 90's suburban Ohio, Lucy embodies the privilege and pathology, trauma and brattiness of suburban girlhood.

The book topped the Small Press Distribution bestseller list in both February and March. Cortese toured the United States in the spring and summer of 2017, performing Lucy's pathology in bars, cafes, and bookstores where, surprisingly, no one felt so offended that they left midway through her reading. Cortese read with some of her favorite writersMeghan Privitello, Maggie Smith, Ruth Awad, Janet Sarbanes, Leland Chuck, among many badass others. Below are reviews of WASP QUEEN and sample pieces from the book. Click here or here or here to purchase. And if you're on Goodreads, please rate or review WASP QUEEN there!

Art & d  esign by Martin Rock

Art & design by Martin Rock

Praise for WASP QUEEN

Claudia Cortese has given to Lucy what Anne Carson has given to Geryon: a life as desperate and fraught as our own, which is to say, a human rendition of the poetic potential. . . [D]anger and love are often one beam, a beam in which Cortese navigates with harrowingly deft eyes and ears, where Lucy, like so many of us citizens of earth and flesh, "shines like a gun." Wasp Queen possesses something permanent and searing at its core: the will to live, even thrive, despite the shackles of childhood, despite even oneself. I finished this book only to read it all over again, finding and losing myself, gladly, at every turn.

—Ocean Vuong

Open this book to ANY PAGE! Then buy it and read it from start to finish. . . I LOVE Lucy. Claudia Cortese’s masterpiece Wasp Queen will open you all the way up!


Wasp Queen is astonishingly, importantly, disturbingly alive to so much that most writers would be afraid to engage with and then perform. Cortese graphically exposes and explores what it would mean if a young girl, brutalized by all that is considered allowable by the social norms of our debased culture, could actually speak her mind. This is the poison without antidote that positions us to experience with dread immediacy the suffering hidden within so many ‘normal’ homes. A subversively political work, Wasp Queen navigates the boundaries of a girlhood, conjuring damage with image after image. . . Dare yourself entry, you too will “never forget when we fingered the dirt—it glowed.” 

—Rusty Morrison

 Image by Valentina Brostean

 Image by Valentina Brostean


Claudia Cortese’s debut poetry collection, Wasp Queen, excavates the construction of Lucy—a teenager, a brat, a volatile body, a monstrous surge—revealing both Lucy’s seams and the ways in which she transgresses them.

Caroline Crew, Kenyon Review

Full of beautifully told truths, essential knowledge to parents of teenagers (girls especially), already inescapably known by girls themselves. Cortese writes in the fabulously-titled poem "Lucy’s Guide to Surviving the First Day of 6th Grade in 1993 in an Ohio Town that Is 92.3% White, 3.8% Black, and 3.9% Other," "The synonym for girl is dead opossum. Pretend you don’t know that." 

—Bess Cooley, Electric Literature


Sample Poems and Stories from Wasp Queen

Click on image below to scroll sample poems