1. Té! As I ask these questions, I cannot help but smile as I think about our Instagram writers of color community. I often talk about social media being the writer’s “village.” Have you found that to be true?
I have found an oddly gorgeous sense of community through Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. I have, in the past, thought of social media as a false reality – a fantasy where one is encouraged to escape their true selves and adopt a villain, victim or deistic persona. This world of likes that feel like love, can be extremely problematic, but it has also proven to be a beautiful reservoir for community and care. Writing can feel like sequestration for work unfinished. The beauty of an online collective is that we are not charged to hold one another to endure the ‘good neighbor’ etiquette of consistent small talk across yards. Social media is an open floor plan. We live together in the scrolling. If I don’t see you or hear from you in a week, a month…I understand that solitude and if we miss each other, previous posts are there to keep us in our anticipation for whatever newness you’ve uncovered about yourself and your work. It is a safe space for writers of color to air out some of the laundry society clothed us in. No matter the platform, we are building homes out of freedom and we are wearing it damned well.
2. Here We Are, Reflections of A God Gone Mad has received rave reviews. And what a timely collection! Your book offers such an intimate insight into a Black man’s thoughts. What inspired you to write this book?
I began writing, ‘Here We Are, Reflections of A God Gone Mad’ in 2013, after being diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that alters how the heart muscle functions. The heart fills poorly, causing fatigue, swelling of the abdomen, and intense chest pain. I was furious at the world and at God. (I mean…really, a poet taken out by his own heart has to be the most absurd and poetic tragedy.) I was also broke. Being a full-time musician, I couldn’t afford to talk to anyone and I found it impossible to seek answers at an alter I no longer trusted with my safety. The book was therapy and an unburdening of myself. I figured that if we are made in the image of God and if I was, in fact, going mad, then God must, in all of His/Her sovereignty be just as mad. I was told that I needed to make an immediate mending to the pressures in/on my life. To create music, my energy level needs to be on 10. I realized that I was a mediocre musician and singer. Audiences enjoyed the shows because of the writing. I began at 8 years old, writing poetry and fiction, that led into songwriting. It is unmanageable to write if I’m not calm and centered. Insert that “God works in mysterious ways” quote. Life and healing and peace came full circle. This book gifted me back to myself. This book saved my life. This is how I forgave myself, forgave God, and discovered a breathing definition of grace.
3. There’s definitely a movement occurring in the Black literary world. Our voices and stories are more important than ever, particularly works that give insight into the Black male experience. What messages do you hope to convey with your writing?
I feel that there is, for me, an obligation to the enduring influence of Black men in our society. I don’t paint Black men as victims. I don’t paint us as villains either. My goal is to share our humanity. We have known, forever, the catalog of our brutality. We have heard loud and clear, the ‘what’ of us and have never given voice to the ‘why’ of this terrible and destructive version of Black masculinity. We have seen this toxic form stretch itself across families and neighborhoods. We have felt the wind of its absence in homes, colleges, and the workforce. I am not exempting us from our actions, merely showing that we are more than the ‘what’ good or bad. I write stories about Black men to show that life is a great deal more colored than the ‘Black or White’ lens reserved for us…we are more. If anyone else commits acts of violence and sins against society; we are told of every reason why this wonderful person erred. The neighbors say that he/she was a “great person.” Black men are seen as inherently evil. We are, as the English writer, Kipling put it “half devil-half child.” I write to tell of our struggles, our pain, our fears, and our slow-rise to growth. The message in my work is to present Black men and brown boys wholly and acceptable.
4. Wow. Just wow. That was powerful. Thank you, thank you. So the question that every reader wants to know – what are you working on now? I believe you have a novel in the works?
Yes, I am working on my debut novel. It’s a three-book series set in Nigeria, the United States, and Kenya. I hope to start introducing the characters on social media soon. I want readers to have the chance to get to know them and fall in love with their personalities before the book is here.
5. Wonderful! I cannot wait to read it! Anything you’d like to share with fellow writers and readers?
If you see me at a reading. I will happily trade books for mangoes.
Ha! Thanks so much, Té!