Then, as today, her passion was poetry and creative writing.
She began writing poetry at age 10 and said she was a voracious reader.
“In the summer my mom would take me to the library and I would check out 10 books at a time,” she said.
She would read them within a week and go back for more.
These days Burroughs is the toast of the literary world, creating goosebumps down the necks of fans with her “precise, calm and haunting” words.
She writes under and goes by the gender-neutral CM Burroughs so readers wouldn’t know the sex of the writer.
“I don’t want them to identify the writer as male or female and make judgments about the work,” she said.
On Sept. 21, her debut book of poetry – “The Vital System” – was published by Tupelo Press. The book’s official launch party takes place on Oct. 7 at the Writers Read NYC in the Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan.
Her parents, attorney Robert and LaVerene Burroughs of Lithonia, will be in the audience for the reading and book signing.
Critics and fellow poets are already raving about the book, which Burroughs says focuses on the female body and being woman in the context of relationship and race.
“The essential question of the collection is how can one use vulnerability as a position of power,” she said Thursday from Chicago, where she now lives and teaches at Columbia College, where she is the Elma Stuckey Liberal Arts and Sciences Emerging Poet-in-Residence.
In its first week of release, “The Vital System” has sold dozens of copies, which makes Burroughs happy.
She said she enjoys being a college professor, which pays the bills, but writing poetry is her first love.
“It’s what allows me to be a poet,” she said.
Laurie Sheck, a fellow poet, calls Burroughs’ first collection “provocative.”
“Saturated in red, full of ellipses, slash marks, lacunae, brackets, and all manner of typographical signaling, this work bristles with a Hopkins-like clashing of syllables and haunting,” she said. “In its challenging engagement with the page as a visual field, ‘The Vital System’ submerges narrative while never wholly abandoning it. Words cut, tear and scar.”
French feminist writer, poet, playwright and philosopher Hélène Cixou said Burroughs’ work is the reunion of the self with its primeval worlds.
“CM Burroughs delves into the ultra-sensitive roots of being; where sufferings and desires take shape, she gathers each breath as yet unheard and leads it to speech,” she said.
Her father, whose law practice is based in Lithonia, said his daughter found her poetic voice while pursuing an undergraduate degree in English and creative writing at Sweet Briar College in Lynchburg, Va.
“I remember the day she said she wanted to be a poet and not a lawyer,” he said. “It broke my heart.”
Like many parents, he had made all these plans for his son, James, and for his daughter.
“Christina was to be the real estate lawyer,” he said. “Jim, the builder, and me, the finance guy.”
His daughter remembers the day well, too. It was in 2003, just as she was graduating from Sweet Briar.
“In college, I was under no stress,” she said. “When others were agonizing about what they were going to do. I knew I was going to law school at my father’s alma mater.”
When the epiphany came, she told her parents that she knew what success looked like because they had been models of what hard work and achievement look like, but that she wanted to pursue writing for a career.
“They kept talking about law school for a good six years after that,” Burroughs said with a laugh. “They said poetry, you can do that on the side, as a side gig.”
Robert Burroughs said his daughter inherited the gift of writing from her mother, who teaches reading in the Atlanta Public School System “and is a pretty writer.”
When Christina’s work began appearing in magazines and journals like Ploughshares, Callaloo, jubilat, VOLT, Bat City Review, La Fovea, and Eleven Eleven, her parents had to learn to accept the language and imagery.
Her dad said they sometimes wondered where was the sweet daughter they sent off to college.
“Some of it made my dad blush,” Burroughs said.
She went on to get a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh.
At Columbia College in Chicago, she is only the fourth poet-in-residence for the position named for the author of “The Big Gate” and “The Collected Poems of Elma Stuckey,” who was born in Memphis and lived in Chicago for more than 40 years.
The highly competitive position was created in 2008 to highlight poets from under-represented communities and to showcase diverse cultural, ethnic, theoretical, and national perspectives.
She teaches two courses per semester in the English department and gives public readings of her work, but her father says she never describes herself as a college professor.
“Writing is her single passion,” he said. “Her poetry is what she lives and breathes.”
Burroughs won her first poetry award – a certificate and large candy bar – in the seventh grade at the then-Chapel Hill Junior High School. She got encouragement from the teacher, who read her poem to the class to her utter embarrassment.
To students now walking the same halls she did, Burroughs said don’t waste time not pursuing your passion.
“Sometimes you have to sacrifice going to the club or that ballgame,” she said. “It requires study and desire to arrive at that place.”
She praises her mother for fostering her love of reading.
“She took me to the library and made sure I could have a book in hand,” she said. “That kind of encouragement was invaluable.”