I left South Side, Chicago last August. I moved to Western Massachusetts to write and teach. Alone, in a foreign land, in a small town, in a small apartment overlooking a fencing company--I needed someone to talk to. Somehow I convinced three fellow writers of color I admire to converse with me every now and then. More accurately: These brilliant and inspiring people teach me something. Hopefully, they'll teach you something also.
Welcome to Beale Street Talks.
Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. He is the editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). His book, Wild Hundreds, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. His rap album Grown is due out in Summer 2015 with his group Daily Lyrical Product. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and member of the Dark Noise Collective.
Zoe Rana Mungin is from the part of Brooklyn where white people still won't wander. She's a graduate of Wellesley College, and currently writes and teaches at the University of Massachusetts. She watches a lot of hockey. She's working on a project that explores the intersection of colored girls and Sailor Moon.
Danez Smith is writer from St. Paul, Minn. He is the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award & the Norma Farber First Book Award. In 2017, his 2nd collection will be published by Graywolf Books. He is a 2014 Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, A Cave Canem Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective
Tuesday 4/21-"On Positivity"
ZM: I want to say I'm the opposite of positive. Because it's so hard for me to access that emotion these days.
But last week when we spoke I was taken all aback and shit, trying to think if I had ever spoken with three black men with college degrees at the same time.
And I never have.
So if all of this isn't a little bit of positivity--or maybe goodness is a better word--then I don't know what is.
DS: I hope I didn't come off as too much of an optimist. I think the world has lost it's damn mind and America is towards the front of the parade of bullsh**tery that's proving the world has lost it's damn mind.
But I know that being black and even mildly aware of what is going in the world, the nation will drive you insane if you don't hold on to something that brings you joy or positivity.
This building sea change in publishing is keeping me afloat. I think presses and institutions are recognizing the need for diverse voices and the power of the writers that have been too often sidelined and side-eyed for too long.
And seeing people like Saeed Jones building new structures with Buzzfeed or Morgan Parker and her recent hire at Amazon for their publishing ventures give me some hope, granted in this privileged world.
But to be "happy" about something like that and think that everything on earf if going smooth would be foolish and blind.
Cause, like, white people are losing their minds the closer we get to 2050.
Also, have y'all peeped Christopher's Soto's blogs for Best American Poetry. Trill, it is.
ZM: "Sad like Lana del Rey."
I am weeping
DS: Yo, but that shit is real! Like, what's more valued in this nation but a sad white girl?
NM: Cities have been burned on their account, but the most valuable thing is the whim of a white man.
NM: I think it's hilarious and quite true to point out how white women can leverage their emotions into real shit happening but I think we have to be careful about not falling into a kind of benign misogyny when we critique their tone deafness. Ya dig?
DS: I do. And I think the feeling he's expressing about that is familiar to me though. It's something I've talked about with a number of other queer men of color.
NM: True, true.
DS: Just for our pain not to be niche.
NM: Hell yeah.
ZM: There are still large swathes of the population that thing that POC don't feel as much pain as white people
DS: And that's because of histories of survival, right?
They know, on some level, that oppression is real, but never understand the depths. And they are so used to seeing us simply survive. And thats how they like it I think.
DS: Y'all done got me sounding like someone's uncle who was in the nation for a little bit in the 80s
ZM: That's everybody's favorite uncle!
Friday 4/24-"On Morgan Parker"
GB: Feel like playing some True/False with Morgan Parker poems?
GB: "In the morning you roll over and tell me/ there is something to be said/ about the last one in the pool, unassuming DJ names,/ and folks with imprints on diner stools./ These are all of my personas. You love/ broken skin the way I want to punch liars in the face"
True, or false?
GB: "Then I ate a hot dog for lunch/ which was better than I expected."
ZM: I just had a vegan hot dog and liked it.
Tuesday 4/28-"On Baltimore and Teaching Injustice"
ZM: In an hour I'll teach my last class of white kids at UMass, and I don't know when I'm gonna teach again. But I'm gonna stand in front of that class, and I'm gonna look at them looking at me, and I'm gonna ask them if they know what's happening in Baltimore.
GB: Don't you feel like you JUST had this conversation with your students?
So now I'm reminded that there is no end to this shit.
ZM: We can't ever stop having these conversations in the classroom. At the beginning of the semester I make my kids read Kiese Laymon and I'm like LOL it's racism day. And then we read more Kiese Laymon, and all this other ish, and then they get hip to my game and they're like, it's racism day EVERY DAY.
Thursday 4/30-"On Baltimore and Being Grown"
NM: One of the sort of cliches in black vernacular is "I'm a grown ass man/woman.
Have you ever thought about why that is?
It seems to me that often black art and black people in general are in this position with the dominant culture where they feel a need to express their own agency/adulthood.
One of the things that happens with the blowback from things like Baltimore is the idea that black folks are children or childlike and irresponsible. So people see riots/revolts as tantrums and not political moments of collective outrage.
Like that damn video that went viral. A lot of America just thinks of black folks as needing a spanking and some discipline.
ZM: Something I say all the time is, "D'you know how grown I am?" As if my age and my degrees and my bullshit job and all of my act right--everything we put into that "grown person" box can counteract whatever invalidation I'm feeling in that moment.
When are we old enough to decide if we wanna protest the fact that our lives don't matter?
DS: Is it too late for me to show up and say I'm grown?
Cause I is.
GB: Nate, I think I saw a video of CPD getting in fistfights with protesters
DS: Man... I can't look at police now a days.
I'd fist fight them mother****** too.
Are we headed for war, y'all?
NM: We might be.
DS: That's a real ass question I've have for the last three years or so.
NM: I stay in the house a lot unless I have events to go to. Being in public is draining nowadays
DS: And even talking about this in public or internet public is draining.
NM: yep. I do a lot of little sh*t to escape. listen to music, organize my emails, all that.
DS: I haven't posted much because I have 0 time for whiteness and its many colors of fu***ry to be invited into my life.
Organize your email? That's relaxing?
NM: More relaxing than black death.
GB: Yesterday I was talking to my students about this and ended up telling them stories about children shot by police in my neighborhood. I had to stop and say "I don't f****ng know."
DS: No stories I know about police involve anyone being protected. Served maybe, but not the good kind.
GB: Whoa. I'm for real trying to think of ONE story. And can't.
NM: On the boondocks they got saved from stinkmeaners crew by the cops.
GB: And Carl WInslow was a cop.