Your book Southern Migrant Mixtape is quite a distinct title, tell us about your inspiration and motivation in crafting the book?
I was not aiming to write a collection of poetry at first. I created this word document that started off with me writing out some depressing stuff I was holding in when I first lived alone in Los Angeles.
I was living in Los Angeles, I did not have a therapist. I got really depressed, so I started writing it all out.
At first the document was just the poems “Take off your Jacket” and “We go back” and I kept adding to them. The summer of 2015 forced me to write the section titled Black Suite, and really analyze my experience as a Black person as a collected experience, and I wanted to express that.
When I felt I was done writing all of it, it all just felt like a mixtape. There were lines that repeated throughout, yet it still felt disjointed. It all felt like some weird compilation of my life, and then I got a vision of the cover art. A cassette tape with the Blue Ridge Mountains (I’m Virginia born) behind them in water color and a cloud of purple and then I started calling it a mixtape--a mixtape about my experience as a Black man raised in the south who wasn’t given space to grow up until I came to California.
Your post a lot of your musical influence both in life and writing on your Instagram account, how does music affect your writing temperament?
My first art was music. I have six years of classical training. When I first started college I was a vocal performance major at Temple University. Deep down in my soul I wanted to be a singer/songwriter (I think I still do at times), but I also just wanted to sit in rooms with nerds and talk about books--invoking the artists salons of the Harlem Renaissance so I switched my major to English with hopes of being this writer influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, comic books, and horror writers.
One of the first songs that made me realize how poetic and narrative driven a song can be was “A Change Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.
That song just reminds me of the river delta in Virginia where my father is from, and it made me look at my father not just as this strict man who raised me but as a Black man who survived the south--survived the integration of schools in the south--and became an attorney in the south. I like music that tells stories, and maybe I’ll have the chance to make some day--until then I’ll keep on listening.
What are your top 3 favourite comic books of all time?
I consider myself a comic book nerd, but I only read Marvel comics. Don’t judge me. I just really fell in love with Stan Lee’s impetus for writing the X-Men at a time when my critical thinking skills were first emerging, and my love of X-Men drove me in many ways to want to write (I write Marvel Fanfic that I keep heavily hidden).
Dan and Stacy Chariton did a 14 issue series of the Silver Surfer in 2003 and the protagonist was a Black mother looking for her gifted daughter who was kidnapped by the Surfer in the south, and I loved it. It spoke to racism, and how authorities don’t look for missing Black children in the United States--it spoke to the aftermath of the hurricanes that were raving the south at the time (still are). At that time Hurricane Isabel (2003) was the big storm before Katrina hit in 2005.
In 2002 Marvel released a Chamber (Icons) four part series by Chris Bachalo and Brian Vaughan, and read those four comics over and over. I love underdog stories, I like when mutants who don’t usually get the spotlight are given the spotlight. This series was about Chamber going undercover at a college to uncover a mutant killer. I read it while I was filling out college applications, so I think the story arch just excited me at the time.
I have been an X-Men fan since the 90s cartoon series, but the first comic I ever bought was Peter Milligan and Mike Alfred’s, X-Force that was renamed X-Statix. I asked my parents to buy it for me while on vacation at Universal Studios. I was drawn in by the thick lines and colors of the illustration, the uncanny powers of the heroes (come on Dead Girl!), and I really just needed to know all I could about Doop.
At the world's stage, you are given a minute to address the whole of humanity and everyone would stop what they're doing to listen, uphold, and take action. What would you tell us?
I feel like humanity is stripped from a person (we literally murder them in our heads) when we ignore that they have an inner-life. This has greatly affected how Black Lives are disregarded in this world. Black children play with toys and read comic books and envision themselves as the “chosen one” when we read fantasy narratives with basic plots--and these same Black children grow up into adults who deserve a right to tell these stories. Allow Black and Brown people to tell their stories and the stories they come up with. Invite us all into your writing rooms.
Allowing Black and Brown people to tell their stories will only assist in building an empathetic dialogue that will SAVE LIVES.
Diversity in work spaces will benefit us all in the end, allowing more Black and Brown stories to be told will change the world for the better.