Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tisa Bryant, Interviewed on March 13, 2005

Tisa Bryant, author/scholar

Tisa Bryant, born in 1966 in Tucson, Arizona.

Interviewed on March 13, 2005 by Ana-Maurine Lara

As you know, this project is really about hearing your story. I would love to start with an earlier part of your life, asking you about some of the defining moments from before the age of 20 that have really influenced who you are.

I’ll work in reverse chronological order. Moving out of my parents’ home, a couple of days after high school graduation to New York for a very, very short stint.

I didn’t know you lived in New York.

Yeah, it wasn’t to the New York that I envisioned `cause we ended up in Long Island, so it was very, very different and very black, actually. I didn’t realize. I hear `island’ in this country and it kind of means something different. But yeah, being 17 in the summer, moving into and ended up in Boston and we were in the second term of Ronald Reagan. It was at that moment of really having to confront the world. I waited to finally be free to make my own decisions about life and it was really bewildering to really try to understand the systems that comprised the world and what they actually meant to me. I always knew that there was a lot of power in the world that I didn’t have, but then the kinds of interactions and being completely broke and really young and working a job and living in an apartment with a whole bunch of crazy kids who were just completely transient, you know. My father would check in on me, meet me in Boston Common every once in a while to make sure that I was not bleeding, [laughter] was fed - you know - and a little cash. But really, being out in the street in this very unstructured way while a lot of the last remaining social structures that would protect the smallest vestige of quality of life for people of color, for working class people and poor people were being dismantled right around me and I didn’t really understand what all of that was about. Just the rise of homeless populations, AIDS, the kind of illusion of AIDS and the illusion of the homeless population where we’re seeing all this stuff happening. I was seeing people on the street, I was hearing about people dying from a mysterious disease, but it wasn’t being talked about in the news. And also at the time when I was living in Boston, I was living in the Fens – the Fenway area – I’m not quite sure if it was a serial killer or what but there were a lot of murders during that time in the mid 80s. I graduated from high school in 1984. So at that time, every spring and summer bodies would be found in the Fens; there were stabbings, there were lots of bashings and also a lot of clubs then, too.

Was this something people were talking about in your groups of friends?

Yeah, and I lived in a rooming house so out on the front steps is where the news happened. And I would just sit, I felt like a little kid again, trying to pretend I was invisible at the big people’s table. As long as I was quiet I’d be allowed to stay. But that’s how I got my information. The Boston Globe was pretty good in reporting on it because there was a burgeoning sense of urgency among white gay men in that area, so there were more community watches that were forming, public meetings and protest. But at that same time, and this isn’t actually a memory that I have and it’s disturbing to me that it’s not a memory that I have and I can’t quite track when it was happening, but in several texts by feminist women of color there was some sort of serial killing of black women going on in Boston during that time that I’ve been unable to find any documentation of. I found two stories in the Globe and one story in the Herald. Again, these seemingly unrelated cases of black women found murdered. I don’t remember how they were murdered, if that was any connection that way. Angela Davis had cited it, Barbara Smith had cited it. Between Home Girls [A Black Feminist Anthology], Women Race and Class, This Bridge [Called My Back], all of these women of a certain generation all kind of recalling this moment. And I don’t know if I was still in high school while all this was happening or if I had just gotten out and moved to Boston. But this kind of atmosphere of being completely unsafe, even though as this...totally full of that adolescent arrogance and sense of freedom. But it was a split consciousness in a way of feeling completely free and able to do whatever I wanted and then again feeling very bound by invisible systems and invisible dangers that were made quite palpable through AIDS and through all of the different kinds of bashing. And that, in terms of coming out, is a very slow and retrograde process for me. But at that moment it was a forward motion right into clubs, right into lesbian clubs when I was 17, 18, 19, 20.

How did you get into all the lesbian clubs in Boston?

With a little 15 year old. A little 15 year old baddie. I met some girls who lived in the Fens, right across the street from me and they took me out to Somewhere Else, and to the 1270 and to The Loft even though it wasn’t always gay, though I knew a lot of gay men did hang out at The Loft. To the Ramrod...We should not have been in there `cause they were just like, “Why are you here?” We would go into ManRay. Campus at ManRay. It’s still there. (NB: it’s gone now!)

It’s still a province of young gay people.

Yup, it is. It was interesting. So many of the older lesbians who were in these clubs, almost all of them were twelve-stepping. And that - you know my parents drink a little, well, much too much for my taste, so that put me on a weird alert. We were talking earlier about role models and how behavior can be modeled - I don’t know how to describe the process - but it just happens. If you’re not paying attention to your behavior you may not know how you may be influencing somebody else. And coming out into clubs where I was watching a lot of kids my age drinking too much, doing all kinds of drugs and there’s this whole generation of women who were substance abusers and they were at various stages of recovery or total damage. And that created this unfortunate narrative that this is what it meant to be a lesbian.

To be in recovery or to be somehow...

Right, because it was so wrong. Everybody I knew, they were people that I mostly saw at night. Not really friends I saw during the daytime. It was all about the twilight; it was all about nights and weekends. I didn’t really see them too much during the day. And there were a lot of other reasons for that, too.

To back up from that...what would I say?

It sounds like this time period in Boston is so critical and in some ways it was informed just by leaving your parents’ house. It served as a sort of break and that had to do with your coming out process.

Yeah, I mean I wasn’t particularly happy living where my parents lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. And that wasn’t the best time. I went into the cave, and didn’t quite come out of that until I moved out. It was fraught with a lot of problems. Because I hadn’t quite actualized as an adolescent. I was very recessed. I felt very recessed the whole time during high school. I still have a physiological image. It makes me understand how teenagers like to wear hoodies. They’re just really shrouded. And shadowed and you can’t get to them. That’s how I felt. I didn’t wear a hoodie, but I felt like my eyes were way back from the surface of my face.

Wow. You felt that.

Yeah, I really felt it. And it was really wild.

I know my high school experience was shaped by coming out. [But for you] was there any connection there?

To being queer?


Sure. To being queer, to being black. I was surrounded by white girls. I rejected assimilation at that point, which is something that’s really hard and it’s something that trips me out. I don’t feel like I rejected my intellect, but in rejecting a certain mode of assimilation, I didn’t leave myself any choices because I didn’t have a sense of what education could be for me. The educational process was all caught up in a kind of assimilation, period.

That you fully rejected.

Right, because you know I just wasn’t very sophisticated. I didn’t know how to think about it and I didn’t have much help in thinking about “Well, look, don’t worry about anybody who will make you feel...”. There was a small clutch of black kids in the school – education and whiteness went hand in hand – it was just a really crazy thing having moved to Plymouth from Boston, which was an ongoing trauma because I had been bussed in the 70s.

In Boston?

In Boston.

Phew. (A 164)

It was the lesser of two evils. Because my parents put us in the METCO system so we got bussed out to affluent suburbs instead of to Southie, so we got bussed into a really good school system. The irony being, of course, that the system we were bussed to ending up being infinitely better, in some respects, than the school we ended up in Plymouth - and that may be my own bitter view of it because I just hated it so much. It really signaled a complete loss of autonomy. I was in Boston. I was learning how to take the buses and the trains by myself and I could just go to stores. I could see friends. I could go to this all white school and deal and I could come home and re-contextualize myself and my identity and that wasn’t possible in Plymouth.

Where everything has to be done in a car?

Everything has to be done in a car and there was no returning to a black neighborhood. There was returning to my family, which was fine. But there wasn’t a lot of discussion going on about where we had been all day and what that meant. Being queer in that meant going out for the soccer team, the field hockey team, the softball team. And I should have in some ways, I think like “Aww, that would have been great”, but it’s not what I wanted. Cause I’m a nerd. And it’s just like...

Where’s the room for the little nerd crew?

There was the other little nerd girl and I hung out with her sometimes. I was just really sad. And getting bussed definitely had a huge impact on who I am. That whole prolonged experience of assimilation and education and understanding. I’m still trying to figure out how it is I understood what it was that was going on, what was expected of me without anybody explicitly...but they did explicitly spell it out. I was told how I needed to speak. I was told how I needed to walk. I was told how I needed to modulate my voice, not just speak in grammatically correct sentences. Not to swing so much when I walked. All that kind of stuff.

All behaviorial did it impact you in terms of who you are in the world today? What are the specific ways it impacted you? What are the specific stories that come out of you as a result?

I don’t know. There are so many. Do you mean...when you say stories do you mean personal stories that come out of it or creative...

Sure, and the ways you see how you’ve been impacted specifically, how it’s made you who you are?

Yeah – I think I arrested my own educational process for control purposes and so I think that’s why I went through this longer self-education process and directing it myself and paying for it myself and taking my time and making choices and not being told. It was necessary for me to be able to make the choice to change the way I spoke when it was necessary. And it’s interesting, that understanding came out of my taking a book on Linguistics, on Black English, out of the public library on my lunch hour or something like that. When I was 19.

And all of a sudden.

I was like, oh – code switching. Right. There was a way to understand the reality of identity and all these different kinds of perspectives. Yeah. There’s a lot that came out of that. Jobs. Lovers. Ambition. Definitely ambition. And what do you do with it, knowing that the more you strive, the more you learn, and the more you change without trying to change too much, you still end up away. I didn’t want to end up constantly [laughter]- this is so damn ironic - surrounded by white people. I was like, okay, how do I not do that?

I just kind of resisted going to school. That’s the other thing, too. I wasn’t going to move down South, you know “I’m going to go to an all black school...” No. I’m a northern girl with a Caribbean background and unfortunately that wasn’t happening. That’s not how I felt. That’s another whole complication and it’s weird `cause I feel like I internalized a whole lot of stuff about relationships between Caribbean Blacks and Southern American Blacks that I was too young to even really deal with at all, but I’ve held it in a very strange way. It’s not very strange, but it actually has intensified. Less so now, but during my 20s definitely. Because the entire signification system around Black cultural production was completely rooted in the South with no recognition at all for those huge numbers of people who were not from the South at all, ever. Who contributed a great deal to the educational system, to politics and literature and art and everything else.

I’m sitting with you here, and I know you. And the way that I’ve known you is as a writer, but tell me a little bit about that. How have you gotten to that point? What does it mean for you? How do you see yourself in terms of your creative process, your creative work, the way you walk through the world?

Okay, what does everything I just said have to do with how I walk through the world?


Everything. I’d say. [pause]

Well, writing became the means for my feeling like I had a sense of agency and again, control over my life, my experiences and how I saw the world. My own world, my own view in my own tongue. And if there’s one thing I can point to is this constant struggle between registers. Between this academic diction and other modes that are much more comfortable, relaxed. I’m prone to academic jargon peppered with swears and shit like that. [Laughter]

When I meet academics and other highly-educated people of color, I notice they do the same thing. And it’s not understood on the page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been corrected or told that it’s a problem, the switch in register. And I realized that aesthetically and formally that’s something that I really would like to learn how to finesse and make a lot more seamless. Because the way I speak and all of the different registers I have access to, naturally, represent how I move through the world. Where I’ve been, how I see, what things mean, what I understand, that I’ve had an education, that I can use big words and that I don’t have to, but that it’s fun...and shit.

And that it’s conscious.

Sometimes I do feel an enormous need to try to speak to all kinds of people at once. And the way most people approach writing, you need to pick one register for all groups. When [in reality] we don’t speak one language all the time. [NB: Michael Eric Dyson is a great example of the shifts in register and code I’m talking about here.] We don’t speak one kind of English, and if you speak more than one language there are all those other registers besides. And it blends` cause that’s the reality of who you are. If you’ve gone through an assimilation process, if you’ve lived in more than one country or more than one city, or if you’ve moved from one community to another that’s going to affect what you write, how you see, how you speak, how you create characters, how you might string a sentence together, whether or not you use paragraph breaks. All of that stuff. So, I’m still working through all of that actually, `cause it all came up in grad school. A lot of my nonfiction prose kind of floundered because of those questions, with my professors telling me I needed to find a register, and I, in some ways agree, but the register is a blend. And those things don‘t go together. They can be collaged together, they can collide in a sentence or in the body of a paragraph but...

It makes me think of your question about interdisciplinary work.

Yeah. Interdisciplinary work is interesting in that you can still use the same academic diction and be working across disciplines `cause that’s the same language.

You’re still using the same register. Right.

Mmm hmm. [Isn’t it funny how interdisciplinary work that is free from academic language or institution is called “cross-genre”? As if there’s no discipline outside the institution.]

What does it mean for you to be a writer?

It means that I can have conversations that I think matter.

Such as?

Conversations about abortion. About labor. Not labor, because I always feel like it’s not the same when I talk about labor. Because I’ve been a pinkish/whitish/grey collar worker, but in the bottom rungs of that. I was a hand maid, a secretary. I’ve been having difficulty validating those conversations - that they are important to have. And that there is room for me to talk about these things the way I want to, because the ground that I’m treading on has lots and lots of foot prints in it and it’s a challenge for me to make that ground look clear and not hear those footsteps coming after me or any of those mouths who might critique, who might say “You can’t talk about this that way.” or “Don’t you understand the implications of this?” or “This and this...” And it’s like, “Naw, shit man, no. I worked this job, this is what it meant to me. I had this experience, this is what it was. I don’t really care. You know, write your own fiction.” And that’s the thing going between theoretical discourses, sociological, philosophical discourses and fiction. It’s the danger of reading too much nonfiction for me anyway, because a lot of the validation that we get as women writers of color will come through poetry and will come from social action. Right? So then, the fiction, up until a certain point, is in the service of that. And not in the service of it, but in conversation with it.

With poetry and social action?

Umhmm. And then whatever fiction might happen. So, it’s hard. Cause I’m not righteous. My stuff is messy. It’s not neat. It’s not cute. It’s not correct. It’s not always enlightened, it’s messy.

Can you say more about your own work?

Okay. My work. My work has changed a lot over the past two years. When I started writing I was really caught up in the therapeutic aspects of writing. Trying to write about bussing in Boston, which I’m still trying to do. Trying to write about coming out in 80s Boston during the Reagan years. Still trying to do that. Not very hard, I should say. I still feel its important to do that, but my style as a writer has changed so much. Each one of those pieces, each one of those projects is organic to its content. They do what they needed to do in a particular way. Because of what they’re about. So, Zoo Kid is about bussing in Boston, but also about the enormous but elided Caribbean presence in New England, in Boston neighborhoods. And it’s straight ahead fiction. Characters and plot and setting and tone and arc and all of those lovely things that make people happy when they want to read stories. And even though it has its moments that are also quite necessary for some of the characters because some kinds of inventions were necessary to represent subjectivity of children going through a traumatic and giddy and hard to understand experience. Because it was scary, but it was also kind of exhilarating to see these classrooms. To see the library. To see the books. To see that there was no lack whatsoever. But the hard part was to feel that I lacked because I had been rescued from my miserable Black neighborhood school that wasn’t good enough.

That transferred onto the individual?

Yeah. And that’s the thing. You’ve got this massive social experiment that’s taking place on the site of children’s bodies and I just think it’s important to talk about that because for all the people I know that’ve gotten bussed across this country, because it wasn’t just in Boston, it was this enormous simultaneous experience. But [there have been] very few novels about the process. And there are very few nonfiction books about it from a Black perspective, as well. Very few. They’re all about white people defending their schools and their neighborhoods and they’re not about Black people. The fringe is still kind of hot on that one. Cause I’m still kind of touching it. And kinda going “aah!” It’s a hard book. It’s very, very emotionally fraught. But as I’ve gotten older I've developed a bit more facility with language and with narrative and with just saying.

I’ve been very pre-occupied with image production and cultural production and representations of black women in film and in 17th and 18th century literature. Yeah. And it’s a lot of fun. But then it also becomes...well, it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun. I like it. Yeah. I think it’s interesting in talking about projects and switching registers `cause I feel I have all these projects that are kind of representative of a particular register. And it’s almost chronological now that I’m starting to think about it. My gosh, no wonder I’m such a nut case with these projects. I’m just like “oh!” It’s like one long bildungsroman in a way.

Zoo Kid is first and it’s very straight ahead. And what I’m working on now in Unexplained Presence and The Curator is very complicated. Very language based. But not impenetrable. It’s certainly not digestible and that’s intentional. I don’t desire writing that can simply be chewed up and swallowed then praised for how it tastes good. And that’s it. You need to be able to be like “This won’t quite go down.” why is that? You might cough up a whole chunk and have to look at it again. And that’s a goal. I learned that from Harryette Mullen. About the indigestibility of writing, of text.

She’s someone that I think of as a tremendous hero in a lot of ways as a Black woman doing innovative writing. Few people paid her any mind, in Black communities anyway. But in the main, not until she wrote Muse and Drudge, which had a Black woman on the cover and is a long blues poem. Right? And so there it is. She signified. She gave you the Black woman on the cover clapping her hands and everyone went “Oh – what’s that?” And all her very Black word play, working on Stein, working on James Joyce, working on the dozens, working on all kinds of stuff just got overlooked. Couldn’t see yourself. Right? People could not see themselves in her earlier work and it was all there. You read it and it’s like “Who talks like that?” I wish I had it in front of me so I could read it right now. The way she’d write about women’s accessories, or about buying certain kinds of food. Her word play, her puns, her rhythm - it was all right there. It was undeniably there. And that’s frightening to me, in terms of the whole whammy of innovative writing, queerness, Blackness, femaleness and accessibility. Being read, having a conversation that’s important to have and having each part of my identity have an impact on the language that I use and the form that I use that may then distance yet another part of the world, my world, that I’m trying to talk to. And I just have to sit with that and let it be. `Cause I can’t do anything about it. If I try to do anything about it then my writing is not real and it’s not mine anymore. You know, it’s a product. That’s really hard.

Now, I’m going to ask you – and this isn’t one of the questions we talked about earlier, but I know from so many conversations we’ve had – about the Dark Room Collective. If that’s something you want to talk about and its influence on you.

Sure. I didn’t bring it up `cause it fell outside of the time frame.

It happened after twenty?

Yeah, it sure did. It happened after 20. I was cleaned up. Wasn’t doing so many drugs. Wasn’t drinking so much. Partying so much. I was 23. A long time. Right “So long after my 20s.” I was 23 or something like that. Yeah. Actually, I was 22. Hilarious. Whatever it was, it was `89.

The Dark Room Collective was an amazing experience. There were always about 10 or 12 of us. Tom Ellis [Thomas Sayers Ellis] and Sharan Strange started it after James Baldwin died. And they went to his funeral in NY and there was this incredible event. I didn’t go. I saw it on the news. I saw the pictures and just the long wide procession of people. And they started the Dark Room Collective in `88 – I think that’s when [James] Baldwin died, in `88 - to, and I quote, “never let our living legacies get away”. Cause at the time Baldwin had been going back and forth between, well for a while, prior to his death, he was teaching at UMass Amherst. It’s two hours away. And Sharan and Tom had been going to Harvard. So that’s how it started.

And I got schooled. I knew very little about Black poetry. A little more about fiction. But not that much more. What I knew came out of Essence - that at the time [Essence]was doing its job in the community by publishing new Black women writers, which they are too lazy to do anymore. Yeah. And to get into the Darkroom Collective, I got a phone call from...I think there were three people on the phone. Sharan, Tom and Trasi Johnson and maybe Janice Lowe, also. And they quizzed me for about 40 minutes or more. Everybody was on the phone. I can’t even remember how many extensions there were in the house, but it seemed like everybody was on the phone. Maybe all those people weren’t on the phone and it’s just grown in my mind but yeah, they asked me who I was reading. And I was reading whoever I was told to read. At my job, somebody would say, “oh, you want to be a writer. You should really read John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction” or I was reading the Boston Globe and New York Times Book Reviews and at the time there was a literary brat pack of Jay McInerny and Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz. And I always forget the woman’s name who wrote Far Rockaway [Jill Eisenstadt]. Where we are right now. So I was reading them, but I had also started reading Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, and I couldn’t read The Bluest Eye [Toni Morrison]. I still haven’t finished it. I couldn’t do it. Didn’t want to.

So I was still very, very ignorant of just the scope...I mean I had heard of the Harlem Renaissance and I thought more about art than text, and I knew about Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. I had that little book. Small gifts from people. But yeah, they quizzed me about what I was reading. And about the music I listened to. And at the time I was coming out of my Goth period, I think it was a Goth period, or did I still have an 80s new wave asymmetrical haircut? One of the two. I was doing my fringe, my fringy thing. They were asking me what I was listening to. I just didn’t want to say anything. So, I said, “I like some, some, some...jazz.” And the only jazz I knew was what my dad had taught me about jazz, which was impressive for them, because they hadn’t heard of one of the pianists, or maybe they probably did – they were so smart. And I was like, “I like jazz and I like blues.” and they were like, “Blues?! You like blues, what do you like?” and I was like “Bobby Blue Bland” they were like “What – you do?” and I was like “Yeah.” and it was like, “Okay.” I listened to it `cause my dad listened to it. He had this big poster in his listening room. But I finally got up off it, and said “Well, you know, I like the Smiths, and I like the Cure and I like Siouxie and the Banshees and I like this and I like that” and it was the most miraculous thing because suddenly we were doing these bizarre medleys of Smith songs and P-Funk and Run DMC and Billy Bragg and Psychadelic Furs and Joan Armatrading. It was outrageous.

All on one phone call.

Yeah. And I was like, okay, I’m not the freak I thought I was. `Cause again, registers, again influence, again this multiplicity of being made of all of this stuff. And I wonder if people of color get the onus of responsibility of echoing and trying to express all of that stuff because it’s all valued so equally. That we’ve managed somehow to democratize all of those things that have influenced us, if we’re honest. That moment really just validated my life. I was like, Wow. I don’t have to be sheepish and hide the fact that I listen to all this other stuff. Somebody, I think it was Tom said, “Naw man, naw - don’t trip.” Well, not ‘trip’ `cause that’s not what we were saying then, but “Morrissey’s a great poet.” and I was like “Yeah.”

What was it like for you as a young Black queer woman in that experience?

Not the easiest. There was one other queer person who’s still my friend. John Keene. Still queer. I think he always said gay. I wouldn’t say anything. And that was it. There were some bi people. There was a woman who was in the Dark Room Collective for a little bit, who I was told later really liked me. And I didn’t get it. So now she’s totally out and fabulous. She’s got some career and everything. And I was like “Oh - I’m such a dummy.” I always feel like sending out one of those awful messages: “Hi, I understand now. I’m glad you’re happy.”

I guess I needed to be a lot more courageous than I was.

What do you mean?

Well, because it was a struggle. It was a real struggle for me. It was a real struggle for me just to admit and just stand firm in what I knew was true about myself. That I was a lesbian and I am a lesbian and that was it and not keep trying to get around it. Trying to be straight. Keep making a mess of my life. And yeah – it was hard. It was hard because I didn’t know what to do about the reaction that I got if I had a girlfriend, or a trick mostly. Somebody I was with. The way people looked. The way people in the Dark Room Collective responded. There was some homophobia there, definitely. And there was only one kind of desire.

When Alice Walker came to read in the Dark Room Reading Series, I think every Black lesbian in the tri-state area was in our living room. And there was a lot of scuttle afterwards about how homophobic we were. And I didn’t like being included in that, but then it was true, `cause I had a lot of internalized crap. A lot of fine women came to the house, too. That’s a daggone shame. And all the women in the Dark Room were just stunning. It was majority women at that. So, on top of the homophobia charge, there was also, we were a harem. So that was also exceedingly fucked up.

With all that, we’re hosting this incredible reading series, where the bulk of the writers emerging and established at the time are all very well established now. And they came for free. This was in our living room, on Sunday after church, with chairs from the church. We’d get some water and some snacks and some stuff and put some music on, clean the house and everybody would come in and they’d get a reading of two people, a couple of times three, some special events. We’d sell books, take the writer out after if there was time. Either cook in the house or take them someplace for dinner and then make sure they got to the airport or their bus and we paid for it out of our pockets. And that was my job was for. And it’s interesting - that habit’s been very hard to break – that I work to finance my art in that way. But then to be inculcated into a kind of collectivity. They all have their faults and fissures, and so do I, but it was instructive for being an individual artist.

It was interesting figuring out how to really navigate and leverage the Dark Room Collective for my own personal development and growth. And I definitely grew, but slowly everybody started getting published a little bit, and you know they’re about their stuff and I was very much about the service part of it. And I was learning. Service learning, right? A total service learning experience for sure. I was ready for us to open a library and a reading room and all that stuff. And everyone else was really starting to gain a foothold in the literary world, and they were focused. And I resented that, as much as I admired it. And I was definitely like, “what?” jealous – "How come I’m not getting anything?" They were. That was the focus, but it was incredible. I met Toni Cade Bambara and Ntozake Shange and Samuel Delany, Essex Hemphill. Yeah.

So in light of all of your experiences, one final question is what defines success for you as a writer? I ask this not from the perspective of normative perspective of success, but more as people who tend to do more social justice work and have that consciousness in their writing, and my sense is that it comes out of the context of our lives, what does that mean for you?

Surviving. Finishing projects. Connecting. Those moments when it’s clear that someone read or heard something. Of course when you do, that’s always bowled me over. And just getting it. That’s always a success. And to not ever feel closed. That I don’t have anything else to learn. I never feel that way.

You don’t walk that way.

I definitely move through the world like a student, in a lot of ways. There’s always something for me to learn. I’m constantly open to information. I was going to say experiences, but am I? No. Am I always open to experiences? No – cause I’m like “Why would I want to do that?” but definitely to learning experiences. I mean yeah, I’m open. That’s a real plus and a strength and it makes it all an adventure. And really just getting to this point in life has felt really successful to me because it was not looking that great early on. Those years where most people are going to go to college or whatever, it took me awhile to figure it out. Up until I was 23 and actually after. It’s interesting. I understand the educational process and how retro-active learning really is. After five, six years in the Dark Room Collective, I moved to California and then I was like “Whoa- I was in that for all this time.” and then it just started to roll. And grad school’s the same thing. Now I’m starting to really feel some momentum.

Absorbing everything that you lived through in that time?

Yeah. Yeah. Also just coming to some answers for myself. This expectation that you enter into a learning experience and will ask and answer – the big question. And it doesn’t happen. You’ll ask a whole bunch of little questions and get a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated answers. And then put it together later. You know. Yeah. I think I’ve got a lot more success to go.

I think you’re world is opening in ways. We don’t have much time, but I want to know in the time we have if there are any other stories you want to share?

Hmm. No. [Laughter]

Do you have any questions for me?

Whoa – there’s a table turning in the oral history project. Umm. Hmm. I can’t think.


I think I’m pretty done right now.

They’re big questions.

Yeah – they are. They’re really big.

Thank you.

Thank you.

It’s been really cool. I always learn a new part of who you are. So thank you.

You’re welcome. Thanks for asking me.

1 comment:

adams24 said...


adam strauss