Interview with JV Brummels, Author of “City at War”

April 19, 2015
Photo: JV Brummels

Photo: JV Brummels

Biography:

JV Brummels’ fifth full-length collection, City at War, was published by The Backwaters Press in late 2009. His work has been recognized with a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elkhorn Prize and the Mildred Bennett Award for contributions to the state’s literature from the Nebraska Center for the Book. His Book of Grass was awarded the 2008 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry.

Raised first on a farm and later on a ranch, he was educated at the University of Nebraska and later Syracuse University. In 1984 he and his family began a horseback cattle outfit to raise natural, grass-fed beef, which they continue to operate as Lightning Creek Cattle Company.

A longtime professor at Wayne State College, home of the longest running poetry slam west of Chicago, he’s also written and published short fiction and a novel. For the last 20 years he’s served as publisher of Logan House, co-founded with Jim Reese, which specializes in contemporary American poetry. In 2006 he was named co-director of the newly created WSC Press.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born near Winside and grew up on farms and ranches in northern Nebraska. What are some of your earliest memories growing up as a child? 

JV Brummels: Well, first and probably unimportantly, the notion that I grew up around Winside stems from a mistaken bio note out there someplace. I did live outside of Winside for decades, and, as it turned out (I wasn’t aware of it at the time), my great grandfather and great grandmother had lived and were buried near there.  I still encounter occasionally a distant cousin here.  I suppose my earliest memories were of chores — milk cows, a cream separator, bucket calves, setting hens and hogs.  It was in many ways a wonderful, outdoor life — lots of weather, good and bad, and snug houses and barns with much animal warmth.

Geosi Gyasi: In western Wayne County, Nebraska, you live with your family, horses and cattle. Do you raise cattle and horses commercially?

JV Brummels: Yep, we raise cattle commercially, though our beef — grass-finished and hormone-free — is for a relatively specialized set of customers. Most of our beef is sold in eighths and quarters to, mostly, young mothers concerned about their children’s diets. It’s been encouraging to watch that market grow substantially over the last few years.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us anything we ought to know about horses and cattle? 

JV Brummels: The front end of a horse can bite you and the rear end can kick you.  How’s that?  I’m not sure there’s anything others ought to know about horses that their interests won’t quickly lead them to. We like horses because they are quiet and capable around cattle. Over the centuries vaqueros developed all sorts of techniques for handling cattle horseback, and we use those tried and true methods. We try to limit our use of fossil fuels, and horses help with that. We raise natural beef, and a bunch of roaring internal combustion engines are far from natural. Our cattle have been crossbred to give us the critter that works for us in a natural environment.  Right now our cattle herd is more or less evenly split among longhorn, Hereford and Angus, three of the four foundation breeds of the American cattle industry. They receive very little supplemental feed, so they have to be able to prosper on their own.  Beyond that, cattle are the walking, breathing exemplar of “pastoral.”  I find being around them is good for my spirit.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in your life did you start writing? 

JV Brummels: Even as a little kid, I wrote — stories, comedy pieces, whatever– but I became serious about it in college.  After graduation I immediately began a graduate program in creative writing at Syracuse University.  I’ve been at it ever since.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special purpose for why you write? 

JV Brummels: I write because I need to write.  I don’t know if it’s genetic or just long practice, but I know that my life feels out of balance when I’m not writing.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a poet, novelist, short story writer, teacher and rancher. How do you manage to do all these works? 

JV Brummels: Poorly, I suppose. I often feel that I’m robbing time from one pursuit to address another.  It makes for a full life, but it can be, and often is, frustrating.  On the other hand, a full life makes me, I believe, a better teacher and poet, and I don’t want to live a life without horses and cattle.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see writing as a real job that pays the bills? 

JV Brummels: Only once in my career, when I published a novel through Bantam Books, did it seem to me possible to make a living from writing.  That turned out to be a short-lived delusion, though I’m not unhappy about that.  I do love much that teaching is, and I would be sorry not to have had a long career in the classroom.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us the inspiration behind your books, “614 Pearl” and “Sunday’s  Child”? 

JV Brummels: 614 PEARL has a lot to do with the struggles of a young married couple; SUNDAY’S CHILD was, I suppose, more of a miscellany of poems I’d written without a sense of what the book would be.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it appropriate to tag your novel, “Deus Ex Machina” as a futuristic novel? 

JV Brummels: Of course.  It’s deliberately set in a not-too-distant dysfunctional future. Of course, too, I subscribe to the notion that science fiction is a way of throwing into high relief aspects of contemporary life by placing them in a future or world different than our own.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that it is difficult to write novels as compared to poetry?

JV Brummels: I’m sure it depends on the writer.  I find novel-writing to be exacting in its discipline.  I maintained a rigid writing schedule when I worked on fiction.  Poetry, for me, is a little more forgiving.  If fact, a break from the routine often allows me to get out of whatever rut I’m in, to change perspective, to grow as an artist.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write? 

JV Brummels: Anytime.  I’ve had good luck in the evenings for beginning/drafting poems, and good luck in the mornings for editing and improving on those original drafts.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer? 

JV Brummels: Two challenges: finding the time and keeping the faith while working for long periods in anonymity.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you say something about the Plains Writers Series? 

JV Brummels: The Plains Writers Series has been around for forty years (or very nearly). It’s served to put living, breathing writers and poets (and therefore living, breathing literature) before students who had previously encountered it only in textbooks.  It’s also been a grand way to create community.  The PWS has sponsored readings by scores of writers, most of whom have inspired and befriended me.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your book, “Cheyenne Line”? 

JV Brummels: Mostly, the story that’s told in the title poem.  In addition, I’d been writing increasingly Western poems, and yet I’m not a cowboy poet in that I don’t use the rhythms and rhymes associated with that genre.  If anything, I suppose I saw myself as a free-verse cowboy poet, a pretty rare animal.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write “City of War”? 

JV Brummels: After a few years of the Iraq war, during which I grieved poets’ inability to stop that madness with a word or a poem, a pen rather than a sword, I decided I’d treat the war as a kind of wallpaper that would serve as a backdrop for my poems.  The poems aren’t about war, but the war is always there.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write? 

JV Brummels: Critics rarely pay attention to my work.  In fact, I don’t know what critics do, or if there are any serious critics at work out there.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you get ideas to write? 

JV Brummels: A friend, years ago, said that we poets are always looking at the world through poets’ eyes. When I sharpen that sight, finding something to write about isn’t hard.

Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on? 

JV Brummels: I worry less about themes and more about rhythm.  I like the sound of things first. Themes, if they’re there, emerge, I suppose, out of what I’m thinking about and how I’m feeling at the time.

Geosi Gyasi: What book(s) have most influenced you as a writer? 

JV Brummels: There are too many to count, must less list.  I’ve been enamored of the work of different poets and writers through my reading life.  It’s a long list that’s constantly evolving.

Geosi Gyasi: What advice do you give to your students who want to give up on writing? 

JV Brummels: The advice WD Snodgrass gave a graduate workshop I was in years ago was, “If you can do anything else, do that instead.”  I never figured out how to quit, and, back in the day, when I tried to quit once or twice it never took.  After a while I’d find myself pecking away at a new poem.  I suppose my advice to a student who wanted to give up would be to try it.  If it takes and they in fact give up writing, then maybe it’s for the  best.  Mostly, though, it doesn’t come up.  People write best when they write to feed their own spirits.  If it stops doing that, what’s the point?

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any current project? 

JV Brummels:  Right now I’ve got a ms ready to go, or very nearly ready.  I’m calling it FRONT PEW @ PARADISE.  It rests, most fundamentally, on some blues poems I’ve been writing.  For a few years I’d had a difficult time finding music I cared about; the cure, as it turned out, was the old blues singers.  I’ve also got some short stories I’d like to get back to, and I’d like to find a publisher for a volume of selected, previously uncollected poems. If time allows I’d like to do a prose book on the American West, a sort of travelogue in which I can address poetry and film within the country I know best and care about most deeply.

END.


Interview with Tyrone Williams, Author of “Adventures of Pi”

April 18, 2015
Photo Credit: Kim Hunter

Photo Credit: Kim Hunter

Brief Biography:

Tyrone Williams teaches literature and theory at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of five books of poetry, c.c. (Krupskaya Books, 2002), On Spec (Omnidawn Publishing, 2008), The Hero Project of the Century (The Backwaters Press, 2009), Adventures of Pi (Dos Madres Press, 2011) and Howell (Atelos Books, 2011). He is also the author of several chapbooks, including a prose eulogy, Pink Tie (Hooke Press, 2011). His website is at http://home.earthlink.net/~suspend/

Geosi Gyasi: Did you know as a child that one day you would become a writer? 

Tyrone Williams: No. I hoped for various things as a child. I wanted to be a physicist, an astronaut, a cartoonist (I was a big fan of Hanna-Barbera), a baseball player, a guitarist, all before the age of 13 when I first became interested in writing.

Geosi Gyasi: For how long have you been writing? 

Tyrone Williams: Since middle/junior high school.

Geosi Gyasi: You completed a paper on Frank O’Hara for Edward Hisrch’s Contemporary American Poetry class. Could you tell us anything we ought to know about Frank O’Hara? 

Tyrone Williams: I actually didn’t write on O’Hara–that assignment morphed into my dissertation on open and closed forms of poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult part of writing? 

Tyrone Williams:  Discipline–forcing oneself to think about writing, if not write, every day.

Geosi Gyasi: When do you often write? 

Tyrone Williams: Seasonally, during the summer. Daily, primarily in the evenings and early mornings.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your books, “Howell” and “Adventures of Pi”? 

Tyrone Williams: Howell was my meditation on American colonialism vis-a-vis the Oklahoma bombing; Adventures of Pi was my contemplation–in part–of what it meant to live in the United States as an ethnic minority and gender majority.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your chapbooks, “AAB” and “Musique Noir”? 

Tyrone Williams: AAB and Musique Noir are parts of the book On Spec which uses the template of blues musical values to inform the problems of racial and cultural authenticity.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on? 

Tyrone Williams: I’m interested in political, cultural and, increasingly, ecological problems.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write? 

Tyrone Williams: No.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific audience you write for? 

Tyrone Williams: I imagine an older “colored” or “Negro” generation, those of my father’s and mother’s generation, and sometimes my own “black” generation.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get the title for “Pink Tie”? 

Tyrone Williams: That was the color of the tie my late friend, Peter Ross, gave me as a gift.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific book of yours you can call your favorite? 

Tyrone Williams: No.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing? 

Tyrone Williams: No.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing? 

Tyrone Williams: Not writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific interest in African-American literature? 

Tyrone Williams: I’m interested in all kinds of literature but yes, African American literature is important to me.

Geosi Gyasi: Based on what idea did you write, “Mama’s Boy”? 

Tyrone Williams: I wrote that poem about my homesickness after I moved from Detroit to Cincinnati.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about “style” at all when you write? 

Tyrone Williams: Not sure what “style” means here.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you decide to write poetry? 

Tyrone Williams: I don’t think any poet “decides’ to write poetry. Apparently I had an aptitude for the form.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you perform your poems? 

Tyrone Williams: If by perform you mean read, yes. If you mean do I do performance poetry or spoken word, then no.

Geosi Gyasi: What advice do you give to your students on their first day of class? 

Tyrone Williams: Read the syllabus.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new project? 

Tyrone Williams:  Yes–three different manuscripts of poetry, in various stages of completion.

END.


Interview with Erik Campbell, Author of “Arguments for Stillness”

April 18, 2015
Photo: Amy Polk

Photo: Amy Polk

Brief Biography:

Erik Campbell’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in New Letters, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Rattle, and other literary journals. His first poetry collection, Arguments for Stillness (Curbstone Press 2006), was named by Book Sense as one of the top ten poetry collections for 2007. Red Hen Press will publish his second collection, The Corpse Pose, in spring 2016. A high school English teacher for many years, he is currently an adjunct professor of English at Nebraska Wesleyan University. 

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write Arguments for Stillness?

Erik Campbell: I never thought about having a book; I just liked writing one poem at a time and trying to get them published in journals I read. Then, in April 2004, Texas Tech University (TTU) Press, care of The Iowa Review (with whom I’d published two poems at the time), contacted me. An editor at TTU P. wrote that he was interested in a poetry collection from me and 13 other book-less writers—that they would publish one of the 14 as part of their Walt McDonald First Book in Poetry series. So, for the first time, I started thinking about poems in a series and how they might function in a collection. I wrote and revised and compiled so many drafts—along the way learning a great deal about how poetry collections are assembled, what poems complement what other poems and in what order, etc. I studied all the poetry collections I admired and interrogated their thematic structures—essentially every aspect of the books, from narrative arcs to fonts. I had approximately two months to get what became Arguments for Stillness together. But, in the end, TTU Press rejected my manuscript.

But I didn’t really mind because I had learned so much from the process—it was like getting an MFA for me. I also thought that the TTU editors were right—my stuff wasn’t working well as a book qua book at that point. But putting so many poems side by side had made me a better writer and editor, and allowed me to really get close to my strengths and weaknesses.

Then, around November of the same year, Rattle, a journal you know well, wrote that they were starting a new imprint with Curbstone Press in Connecticut–a really fine, small press–and asked if I had a manuscript. So I started from the beginning again and tried really hard to make every word, or, at least line, count. Then, like unfortunate déjà vu, Rattle rejected it and Curbstone never even saw it.

But by this point I thought the book had some legs; I really thought it should exist, so I wrote the editors and asked for one more shot at a revision, which they agreed to. One month later the Rattle editors accepted Arguments for Stillness, and then Curbstone agreed as well. In fact, I found out that it was accepted by all requisite parties on my 33nd birthday. So, weirdly enough, in both cases the publishers found me—and each rejected me once. This experience is very rare. And I’m very thankful and humbled by the publishers’ faith in me. I was very lucky.

However, on December 21st, 2007, Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press died the same day we buried my father—which also happened to be my birthday. Soon after, Curbstone Press began to dismantle and sell off its catalogue. Promotion-wise, the book was dead in the water, in terms of the publisher’s roll. I was just moving from Papua, Indonesia to Phoenix, AZ. It was a chaotic and awful time. Now Northwestern University Press owns the book, but I doubt they even realize it. Deep sigh. The moral is: “Don’t get too happy.” Or, “Be ambivalent regarding your birthday.”

My subsequent answers will be shorter. Damn.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you get an idea to write a poem?

Erik Campbell: I mostly am struck with an idea—I am an idea writer, I hardly use imagery consciously; I rarely even use color, for example—and then I wonder if said idea would make for an interesting and consequential conversation. If I decide “yes,” I give it a try. So, in a weird way, my ideas start as prose.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The Small Thing”?

Erik Campbell: I wrote that one, which is about my then dying father, mostly in my head during the three months he was in the hospital. Readers have responded very graciously to that poem, for which I’m thankful. I remember being scared when Rattle put the poem on its website, like I was showing too much to too many, but people have been great about it.

Death poems are dangerous and hard to write without falling into the precious or the solipsistic maudlin, so it’s actually thorny stuff. I thought having the poem in several sections coming from different stages of grief would be interesting. Death, it seems to me, happens in stages. There is no “moment of death,” but a series of moments, and that’s the primary idea I was hoping to convey.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about style when you write?

Erik Campbell: I tend to write in couplets and have stanza lengths of quasi-iambic tetrameter. But I am also too anapesty (a word I’ve just coined), particularly in my endings, which is something I’m thinking about now. But I confess that I don’t honestly know what people mean by “style” in poetry anymore. It seems like “lyric poet” is considered the opposite of “narrative poet” now, for example. It’s like the term “discourse.” Or how popular culture has appropriated the term “narrative.” I don’t think I know what people mean by these terms any longer.

I guess I have always written in a seriocomic vein, but never in a flippant tone. I’m always using irony, but detest mere cleverness and what Stephen Burt calls, “close calls with nonsense.” Our daily lives are nonsensical, and writing can give them form. To celebrate nonsense, as many surrealists are doing these days, seems to be a colossal waste of writing and reading time to me. If you need to embrace the absurd, watch FOX News.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you happy as a writer?

Erik Campbell: Mostly, but I think I should care more about the “business,” which is to say, to network and submit a great deal more, and thereby reach more people. I write very little—or keep very little. I make notes chronically, and sometimes they become quasi-obsessions that I think can be of use—if a poem’s purpose is, as I think it is, to inform and entertain, but not solely to entertain. After all, we still find beheadings entertaining. Or the news thinks we do.

I’m happy to write and very happy to be read, but I don’t like building a “brand.” That is something ostensibly silly to me, since I don’t think a writer should be a personality off the page—but it’s becoming necessary. I now have a website, for example, something I thought I’d never have, because in today’s publishing climate, a writer (regardless of genre) needs one (and thanks to my pal, David Mainelli, a writer I hope you’ll hear of soon, for doing everything on the website). Like e-mail, the literary on-line presence began as an indulgence, and now it’s creed. It’s just amazing and scary and mystifying to people like me who were still using electric typewriters in 1999 and who love Neil Postman. However, that’s the rumpus, right? Buy the ticket; take the ride. I did, after all, decide to write poetry, which is like being a professional philosopher or phrenologist in terms of wide public impact.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer?

Erik Campbell: To continue to do it, in poetry at least, once I realized how difficult it all is. I always think to myself that whenever I write and then submit something, I am making a promise to the reader to try my best not waste her/his time. That’s a hard philosophical row to hoe, which is why I think I write so slowly, and why I rather think we all should. I have an idea that no poet should publish more than one book every four years—minimum. I read at least ten new poetry collections a year, in addition to everything else I read, and there is no way to even remotely keep up—so our supply of poetry is radically exceeding our demand, it would seem, despite being such a small demand. But the audience is as invested as it small, I think. Poetry fans are like jazz fans—they’re committed. They’re nuts. I love them. I also fear them, sometimes. Still, I know no one in the world is waiting for the next Erik Campbell poem or book. It’s a tough room, as they say.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything from writing?

Erik Campbell: I don’t honestly know what I would do were I unable to read and write. Life would be unthinkable, and therefore terrifying and stupid for me. I wouldn’t need to write, I guess, but I’d have to have books and interesting people about me, else I’d erase my map, James O. Incandenza-style. Reading and writing is what I have in lieu of a god, honestly.

I have also met a few people I so hugely admire because of writing and publishing. Tim Green of Rattle is one of my most trusted friends (and editors), and I’ve only met him once in person. I wouldn’t have published Arguments for Stillness without him. I love what he’s done with Rattle, as does most everyone, because Tim is completely free of bullshit and loves poetry and the community—he thinks, strictly speaking, that the community is more important than poetry, in fact.

The late Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press was a hero of mine. William Kloefkorn, Nebraska’s former state poet, was a dear friend. His introduction to Arguments was actually a personal letter he sent me about the book. What a man he was. A giant to me. The friendships and experiences I’ve had as a result of the writing life have been amazing. I interviewed Allen Ginsberg in 1995 before I’d published anything. Philip Glass was there in the hotel room and I didn’t recognize him. I owe all the aforementioned to engaging with writers and the writing world. I interviewed Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka about two years before his death. When I look back, it’s been amazing. “Surreal.” See what I mean? Ha.

Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to complete a single poem?

Erik Campbell: The first draft is written in one to three sittings, and then I re-read and edit or abandon. If un-abandoned, I can rewrite for three to six months on average, although I’ve rewritten some poems dozens of times over years, but this is an exception. After you’ve thrown away hundreds of poems, you tend to know what works for you and the audience, if any.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?

Erik Campbell: I care about the reading public, period, a great deal. A poet/critic named Andy Fogle published a very negative review of my first book in an on-line magazine called Pop Matters. It was such a strange, ad hominem attack. He even made fun of my author bio. But I figured at least he read the book, because his antipathy was specific. But make no mistake, he was really mean about it, which begs the question: why write a negative review of a book of poetry? What does such an act mean? There are so few poetry readers it seems to me one should write reviews of books one finds meaningful, books that can help us navigate the mess of what Ginsberg called, “humankind-ness.” I’d never review a book I hated, although they are legion. Talk about pissing in the Arafura Sea. So, I guess I care about getting negative reviews because it’s not like poetry writers are pushing themselves on the public, Kardashian-style. If you hate certain poets, okay, bully for you, but Donald Trump gets in your face more than poetry does, doesn’t he? Poetry is hugely avoidable. Seeking out poets to hate is a waste of time; finding poets to appreciate is hard enough. Furthermore, you’re rude, Andy Fogle. Like you ain’t got no mamma.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your audience?

Erik Campbell: I think my audience is potentially anyone who reads seriously or somewhat so.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more poetry books?

Erik Campbell: I have a second collection, called The Corpse Pose, coming out from Red Hen Press in the spring of 2016. I’m really excited about the press, the people, and the process. The chief editor, Kate Gale, is herself a fine writer. I met her because of my MFA program. I’ve been working on The Corpse Pose since 2007. After that, I’m certain I have one more collection in me (it’s halfway done now) and am pretty sure I could do a fourth, but that’s it, Jack Gilbert-style, but without the Greek islands and the perfect jawline and the crazy lyrical genius. After book four, I think I’ll have run out of ideas and/or ways of rendering them.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you want to be called – Poet or Writer?

Erik Campbell: Either is fine, far better than recently divorced, underemployed, sad man.

I have published essays, many of which are on-line (see The Virginia Quarterly Review), so maybe “writer.” I think it’s all right and flattering if people refer to me as a writer, but I’m still uncomfortable with calling myself one outside of my resume. It seems to me too holy a word. Tolstoy is a writer. Keats is a poet. Shakespeare is the closet thing I have to god. I’m a person who writes poems and occasional prose. I’m more of a Replacements fan than a writer. I do think I’m a very good teacher, however.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?

Erik Campbell: I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Apart from that, I have a BA in English from Nebraska Wesleyan University and I have read seriously since high school and was able to read and write about 6-7 hours a day when I was living in Papua, which was an insane luxury for a hopeful writer. I think that time in Papua was far more important than my MFA program, in many ways.

Additionally, MFAs are not truly “terminal degrees.” The academic climate and the potency of such degrees has changed. We have Ph.Ds. in Poetry with creative writing emphases in the States now. There will soon be no point to the Creative Writing MFA, I think. There is little point now, perhaps, other than to network and force candidates to produce a great deal of work, which can be done independently of the university system, depending on one’s grit and self-motivation. However, there are as many programs out there as there are students, so I shouldn’t judge and should say I don’t have a better idea than the standard workshop model for teaching poetry writing, if it can be taught. Really, all we can do in the teaching of writing is to expose readers to writers and styles and to guide. My peers have helped me hugely. The informal education has been the most valuable to me, but without the formal, I’d not have met my new publisher, for example. I also met some great people during my program that I respect and hope to have as lifelong friends, if they’ll have me.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind asking me any question?

Erik Campbell: I wanted to thank you for reaching out to us and me and doing such fine work. I had fun and appreciate it. I’m amazed at how many writers you’ve interviewed and wish I had your hustle.

END.


Interview with 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize Shortlisted Writer

April 17, 2015
Photo: Hope Wabuke

Photo: Hope Wabuke

Brief Biography:

Born in exile to Ugandan refugees, Hope Wabuke is now a writer based in Southern California. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The North American Review, Kalyani Magazine, Fjords Literary Journal, Potluck Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, Salamander Journal, Literary Mama, Weave Magazine, Cease Cows, Split This Rock and Joint Literary. Her essays and criticism have been featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Gawker, The Root, Ms. Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, The Feminist Wire, Ozy, The Hairpin and The Daily Beast. Hope reviews books for the Kirkus Reviews and has won fellowships from The New York Times, Voices of Our Nations Foundation (VONA), and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and New York University. Hope is currently the media director for the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction. Follow her on Twitter @HopeWabuke.

Geosi Gyasi: Could we start with your poem, “Leviticus”? How did you come to write it? 

Hope Wabuke: When I became pregnant with my baby boy, I began to think a lot about my personal and cultural history. I thought a lot about my parents, my grandparents–what it must have been like to be live through genocide, trying to keep your family safe. I began to remember things–some I think I had been told, some I don’t think I could possibly have known. When I talked to my mother, afterward, she said she hadn’t told them to me. Nor, of course, had my father. It was all very interesting to me, very pressing to understand. Scientists have proven that, when women are pregnant, the baby’s cells migrate into the mother’s blood, body and brain, and vice versa of course, permanently changing our bodies and psychology. So my mother’s experiences and unsaid memories were held inside me; my son’s as well. Mine inside him. It was then that I began to write the poems that form my current poetry manuscript, The Body Family, of which “Leviticus” is one. These poems explore my family’s escape from Idi Amin’s Ugandan genocide and the aftermath of healing in America. In it, I reclaim my womanhood, culture, and spirituality from a legacy of violence.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you know at the time of writing “Leviticus” that the first line would start with “At work still when the day rises”? 

Hope Wabuke: I did not consciously know that, no. My father had just gotten hurt and I was trying to sort my own feelings on the page so that I could then be a better support for him. I had in my immediate mind the image of my father, hurt, and, I suppose in my mind too was the image of my father that had always been there before: at work. He was always working during my childhood and adult life up until his injury. I don’t think he has ever taken a vacation. Like many immigrants, he thought this was what he had to do to make a life in this country. And he is from a country, too, where one works every day from before sunrise until sundown on the farm. Even the ninety year old grandmas and grandpas, working. Once, I asked my grandmother what the mark of a good man was. She said: he works and supports his family. So there is that. All this, then, in my mind, and the opening of the poem became my father, working, still, as he has done since he was three years old and grew big enough to fetch and carry water from the river. Still working, even when the doctors say what he needs is only rest and care.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you often end a poem?

Hope Wabuke: The ending of the poem varies with the subject matter, which or course, is married to form. It is impossible to give a universal answer to that. But I think, like all poets, I strive for resonance, the embedding of thematic weight and meaning. If you think musically, the end of the poem is the last chord that one wants to echo out, haunting the silence.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult at all to write a poem?

Hope Wabuke: It is very difficult, it is very easy. The poem is there, always, waiting to be found. The task is being silent enough to hear it, aware enough to discard the extraneous and chisel away to the essence.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a particular “style” or “form” in which you write? 

Hope Wabuke: Generally free verse, blank verse or the ode. Sometimes prose poems or visual poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you hear about the Brunel University African Poetry Prize? 

Hope Wabuke: I discovered their excellent work through the prize for fiction they have. The African Book Fund is an amazing organization. They are creating awareness and support for African literature, which is vastly needed.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you expect to be on the shortlist of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize? 

Hope Wabuke: When one applies to these things, one always hopes one’s work will be recognized. But there are so many talented writers doing important work out there that it is always an honor to be included in these shortlists and awards.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re the Media Director at Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction. Could you specifically share with us about the work you do at the center? 

Hope Wabuke: Kimbilio is really the genius of David Haynes, the founder and Executive Director. He is extremely giving and committed to creating a community of writers of the African diaspora. I say that purposefully because the term African American, or even often does not encompass the different cultures of Africa, America, Europe, the Caribbean and South America where Black people have found ourselves. I help David with the website, PR, social media and a few other special projects.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you choose to study creative writing at the New York University?

Hope Wabuke:  I was twenty-one and very young and in love with the idea of New York City–James Baldwin, jazz, Brooklyn, the whole romance of it. I was fortunate in the support from the fellowship they gave me and from the faculty while I was there. The new director, Deborah Landau, has also now done amazing thing with the program in creating a community of writers and intellectuals. In retrospect, I think I would have been able to get more out of it if I had waited longer to mature after finishing undergraduate program before applying. But then, perhaps the business of life would have swept me away and I would not have taken the time out for an MFA in creative writing. Such an impractical, marvelous dream. I was all set to be a lawyer.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write? 

Hope Wabuke: When my two year old is sleeping.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us something about the fellowship you received from Junot Diaz’s Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation?

Hope Wabuke: The experience at VONA was revelatory. I had never before had the privilege of being in a space where I was not the only black writer in the classroom, where my experience was normalized through numbers. The faculty there are so giving and intelligent. They are completely committed to the craft of writing and to nurturing writers of color.

Geosi Gyasi: How important is poetry to the world? 

Hope Wabuke: With poetry, we give rise to the deepest part of ourselves–we get closest to truth, to beauty as we can in writing. There is hope for understanding, for moments of grace. It is an awareness, an awakening.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in exile to Ugandan refugees. Do you mind telling us something about your parents?

Hope Wabuke: My parents escaped Idi Amin’s Ugandan genocide to give a better life–life itself–to my family. They are two of the strongest, most complex, most beautiful people I have known. Every day I am more grateful for them.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you happy as a writer? 

Hope Wabuke: Yes. Exceedingly.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your future writing plans? 

Hope Wabuke: I am revising two books of poetry. I also have a nonfiction book in my head and a finished novel in a drawer, which I need to revise. When my son is old enough to go to school, I would like to return to teaching poetry or creative nonfiction. I taught writing at NYU for seven years, and I enjoy the spark of thinking through language with students.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your expectations for the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize? 

Hope Wabuke: It would be lovely to win.

END.


Interview with Chelsey Clammer, Author of “BodyHome”

April 16, 2015
Photo Credit: Sofie Egan

Photo Credit: Sofie Egan

Brief Biography:

Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review (forthcoming) among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Clammer is also the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, was released from Hopewell Publishing in March 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Summer 2015. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.

Geosi Gyasi: Could we begin by talking about your debut essay collection, “BodyHome”. Why did you decide to write essays at this point in your life?

Chelsey Clammer: BodyHome is a collection of essays I wrote when I first started writing back in 2011. The essays within it all respond to the thought that the concept of home can be found in our bodies. They’re all personal essays and range from upbeat and witty, to meditative and, at times, dark. I don’t feel like I necessarily decided to write essays. I liked writing, and that was the form that felt most exciting for me.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us if there is any difference between essay and non-fiction?

Chelsey Clammer: For me, nonfiction is just a broad name of one genre and essays are more specific as they are self-contained. Essays can be academic or personal, where nonfiction can be anything that’s, well, not fiction. I usually write lyric essays, which are essays that play with form, structure and language in ways that the more conventional linear personal essays do not..

Geosi Gyasi: How difficult is it to write an essay as compared to fiction or poetry?

Chelsey Clammer: On average, I write about one poem and one short story per year. And all two of the poems I have published were originally micro essays that I turned into poems. In comparison, I have over 100 published essays. My brain has a hard time writing fiction, though all the short stories I have written have been published. So I must be doing something right! Either way, I feel like my mind is able to be more creative when I’m thinking about past events and experiences—like because I already know what the story is, I can then concentrate on form and sound.

Geosi Gyasi: Have been writing for a long time?

Chelsey Clammer: I started writing in 2011, though I have been keeping a journal since I was nine. I’m thirty-two now.

Geosi Gyasi: You are currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. Why did you decide to pursue an MFA?

Chelsey Clammer: I actually never wanted an MFA, as I think a writer doesn’t need the degree to write. So I never pursued one. A few years ago, though, I realized that I wanted more feedback on my writing in order to continue to improve it, and did some research to see if any of the authors I most greatly admired taught any low-residency programs (I wanted low-residency, because I didn’t want to have to move again for graduate school). Lia Purpura is one of my favorite authors, and so when I discovered that she was on the RWW faculty, I looked into the program and decided to apply. I feel blessed, because last year (my first year in the program) I was able to work directly with Lia. Hello dreams coming true.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you actually do as an editor?

Chelsey Clammer: For my freelance clients, I do anything from general feedback to line edits. I have a hard time not doing line edits, though, because I love editing even more than I love writing. I read for sound and pace and rhythm and language and structure and organization and flow and purpose and form. When I edit, I EDIT. I dive into the piece, see what’s working in it, what’s not, and use that knowledge to drive every little edit I make.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you edit your own works?

Chelsey Clammer: Yes. Like I said, I love editing. To me it’s like a science or maybe a puzzle. Writing empties my brain, and editing makes sense of all of it. I get so into editing that I’ve spent a half hour a few different times editing one sentence.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about your association with “The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review”?

Chelsey Clammer: In 2012, I had a piece accepted by the journal. Upon acceptance, Rae Bryant (the Editor-in-Chief) invited me to be a columnist for the journal. A few months later, she asked me to be the assistant nonfiction editor. A few months after that I became the Nonfiction editor. And few months after that I became the Managing editor. Now, I am also a workshop instructor for the journal. Rae has given me such great guidance in my writing and editing life. I’ve worked with her for almost three years now. Funny story—we’ve never met. She lives in Maryland and I’m in Colorado.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind giving us an insight into your forthcoming collection of essays, “There Is Nothing Else to See Here”?

Chelsey Clammer: The concept of this book is to look at some traumatic events I have experienced and, in a way, zoom in on a certain aspect or detail of each one in order to look deeper into the experience. For instance, when my mother found my father dead on the bedroom floor, she tried to give him CPR, which didn’t work. Instead of describing the situation from a more narrative point of view, I concentrate on what her hands were doing during this experience in order to look at the different ways in which we di and grieve. The essays in this collection are more meditative and lyrical than the ones in BodyHome.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Attempt” as published in the winter issue of the “One Throne Magazine”?

Chelsey Clammer: The events in the poem actually happened (see—I’m a nonfiction-er!). I was terribly grieving the young woman’s death, trying to make sense as to why it all happened. I don’t think any sense will ever be made with how she fell off the ledge as she turned around to climb back over it, because there is no sense to it. However, I think in these types of horrid situations, it can be healing to see the events in a more logistical sort of way. I needed to explain exactly what happened in order to then be able to see it differently, to see how I actually felt about the situation. The poem is brimming with grief, as well as a type of beauty that can be found in the vulnerability that grief creates.

BodyHome by Chelsey Clammer

BodyHome by Chelsey Clammer

Geosi Gyasi: Are you so much particular about “style” when you write?

Chelsey Clammer: Currently, my writing is really experimental. I just finished writing the essays for my next collection, Circadian, all of which have some sort of an unconventional structure or way in which to tell a story. Each essay also takes some sort of science, medical, grammar, or mathematical “facts” and integrates them with personal stories. I’m loving this style right now, as I get to research a bunch of topics and then use them as a way to guide the personal story I want to tell.

Geosi Gyasi: How long does it often take you to write a single poem?

Chelsey Clammer: I have written a total of two poems in my life (one of which is “Attempt”) As mentioned earlier, each poem was originally a micro essay. Essays for me are really easy to write, so that actual writing of the piece took just about ten minutes or so. Then, I changed their structure into a more poem-like form and editing each one for a few days before submitting them. So, I guess a few days would be the answer, if even.

Geosi Gyasi: Which genre of literature do you feel more closely attached to?

Chelsey Clammer: Lyric essays. Absolutely. I love being able to write and read in more challenging and weird ways.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you often know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?

Chelsey Clammer: For essays, YES. First lines and last lines are my favorite things to write. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I just get this awesome feeling when I come to a line that I know will be the last one. It’s like the world feels complete and that the essay will have a lot of power in it.

Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

Chelsey Clammer: Fiction! My brain just doesn’t think in that way!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you admire as a writer?

Chelsey Clammer: So many! A few: Marya Hornbacher, Lia Purpura, Maggie Nelson, Eula Biss, Ander Monson, and Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Jorie Graham, Kevin Young, and Jenny Boully to name a few.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your piece, “Dear You”?

Chelsey Clammer: I love offensive rap music. I have my BA and MA in Feminist Studies, so I know that’s kind of weird. But you know what? Lil’ Wayne might have misogynistic and degrading lyrics, but he is a damn good writer. So I’m hooked on Lil’ Wayne now (I’ve even recorded myself rapping him—check out my website for that!) I wrote a fake lesbian manifesto using only Lil’ Wayne lyrics, and then the thought just came to me that it would be funny to take one of his songs that’s filled with a lot of better-than-thou attitude and use the lyrics to write a love letter. After I did that, I realized it would be funny to edit it and use Bette Midler lyrics. I’m not quite sure how I think of these things.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?

Chelsey Clammer: I can never remember when to use affect or effect.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you get any rewards out of writing?

Chelsey Clammer: Sanity. Spirituality. I’m an alcoholic and once I quit drinking, I started to write more and found that writing is my spiritual practice. It’s how we relate to one another in this world—through sharing our stories. If I didn’t have writing, I wouldn’t feel connected to this world or anyone else. It’s what keeps me alive and here.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your relationship with “The Nervous Breakdown”?

Chelsey Clammer: I am now the Essays Editor with The Nervous Breakdown. They published a few of my pieces in the past—one in which I use offensive rap lyrics to explain ecofeminism, and a book review for Dinah Lenney’s The Object Parade. I emailed them to see if they needed any help reading submissions or editing, because I love being involved with literary journals—you get to see all of the new stuff that’s being produced and start to learn who a lot of writers are. I was brought on as the Associate Essays Editor, and in this past week transitioned into the head Essays editor.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more essay books as compared to poetry?

Chelsey Clammer: I actually don’t seem myself writing a collection of poetry. Well, sort of. I’ve taken a few of my segmented lyric essays and have turned them into a few different chapbooks, because they kind of read like prose poems. For now, though, I’m sticking with essay collections but am always keeping poetry in my mind.

END.


Interview with American Writer, Gary Emmette Chandler

April 14, 2015
Photo: Gary Emmette Chandler

Photo: Gary Emmette Chandler

Brief Biography:

Gary Emmette Chandler works from his apartment in Portland as a copywriter and web developer, mostly in pajamas, with a cat nibbling at his leg. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Pantheon, and One Throne Magazine, among others. You can follow his hungover ramblings on Twitter @TheWearyLuddite, if you like.

Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin from your work as a copywriter. Who is a copywriter?

A copywriter (in my case at least), is someone who takes a service, or object, and then presents it to an audience in a desirable manner, using lots of pretty words.

Geosi Gyasi: Does one require any special skill to become a copywriter?

The ability to talk about something without fully understanding it is helpful. It’s a bit like writing fiction in that sense. You don’t need to know a profession inside and out in order give one of your characters that job. You just need to do enough research to present it in a convincing manner, without getting anything terribly wrong.

Geosi Gyasi: I’m not sure what the difference is between copywriting and editing?

Ad editing can be a part of copywriting, whereas copywriter can cover a lot more than just ads. If we’re developing a new website for a client, for example, and they don’t want to write the text, then it’s my job to provide that for them. Essentially, any time a client requires text at a professional level, that’s copywriting.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us what we don’t know about Zbra Studios?

Zbra Studios is a web development company that my sister started, almost ten years ago. In that time, we’ve built websites for a diverse range of clients, including certain international fast food franchises (which I don’t think I’m allowed to name). The nature of the job allows me to work from any location with an Internet connection, and I’ve been grateful for that flexibility.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re also a Web Developer. How do you reconcile your work as a Web Developer to that of writing?

General web development is a much smaller part of my job than it was when I started out, something like eight years ago. At this point, my work consists mostly of copywriting, though I still do a little coding here and there, in addition to other miscellaneous tasks.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in your life did you become a writer?

I wrote my first story in high school, or thereabouts, inspired by the late, great Terry Pratchett. “Jonathan Goes to Heaven and Asks About Kittens,” was the title, if I remember correctly, and it was hardly a story so much as a crude joke. I didn’t pursue writing seriously until college, when I switched my major to Creative Writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about the inspiration behind your story, “The Waters of My Mind”?

Oh, that one’s a bit of a tangled mess. In some ways, it’s one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written. The first draft was written in a single sitting, when everything in my life seemed to be imploding. At that point, the story was really just me working through that – my doubt, and regrets – in the most abstract way possible. It went through so many drafts before it was published, though, that I’m not sure how much of it remains. Originally, it was written in epistolary form, and had a different title: “There Are No Maps.”

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you write short stories?

As often as I can (which isn’t as often as I’d like). On average, I’d say I start writing a new story each month, though not all of those make it to the finish line. I’ll hit ruts every now and then, but I try to work on revisions or new stories several times a week, at least.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to write short stories?

Definitely. Though I like to think I’ve improved over the years, I don’t think writing will ever necessarily become easy for me. It’s always a challenge, and I’m always doubting myself, or my work – even after a story’s published.

Geosi Gyasi: I want to know how many rejections you’ve received ever since you started writing?

I did keep track, initially, but I lost count after a while. Before my first legitimate story acceptance, I’d guess somewhere around fifty rejections. To date, I’ve received well over a hundred. Most writers, I think, quickly learn that rejection is a constant companion. Even Neil Gaiman mentioned on Twitter that he’d had a story rejected, recently.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?

I’m not sure if I’d call any aspect of writing boring, though some bits can certainly be tedious, or frustrating. That said, I’ve gotten a bit bored with some of my stories in the past, simply because I’ve put them through so many revisions, that I’ve read them (in some form, at least) literally hundreds of times.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you write “This Life Without Wings”?

That one was written around the same time as “The Waters of My Mind,” and it comes from a similar place. For me, that story was about learning to deal with rejection, as well as facing up to myself, and the choices I’d made in my life. It started from a rather simple place, though: walking my parents’ dog in the summer, and watching the sky. I liked the idea of being able to reach out and move the clouds around. The rest of the story came from there.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get your stories from?

Often from a single line, or image. I’m not as methodical as a lot of writers. I rarely plot anything out (though that is something I’m working on), and instead find the story, and characters, as I go. I’m not sure how it happens, but I’m glad that it does.

Geosi Gyasi: Who inspires you as a writer?

I tend to go through phases where I’m particularly obsessed with a single writer. Recently, that’s been Neil Gaiman (I discovered him rather late, compared to most people). Ursula K. Le Guin will always be one of my favorite authors, and when I’m stuck, or feeling uninspired, I’ll often go back to one of her books.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn anything from writing?

In the monetary sense, outside of my job as a copywriter, I earn very little, very rarely. But I don’t think many people go into writing with the expectation of making a great deal of money – especially when it comes to short stories. For example, I’ll generally buy an issue of the magazine I’m submitting to before I send them something, which can add up pretty quickly. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever earn enough from writing to cover that cost, retroactively. In other words, my day job allows me to maintain my writing habit.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write poetry too?

Not since high school really, no. And my high school poetry is something we can only hope is never seen by anyone, ever again. I imagine many high school poets feel the same.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about any profound moments as a student in San Francisco State University?

I had several excellent professors at SFSU, particularly in the writing program, and they changed how I both read and wrote. An older professor, Mr. Arkin, taught the Modern British Novel, and in that course I discovered D.H. Lawrence, and just how effective subtext could be. Another teacher, Amy Payne, taught me about the power of “dailies,” or the rhythms and rituals of mundane daily tasks, through Haruki Murakami’s work. There was much more, of course, but those are two of the lessons that stand out.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you struggle at the time with the choice of course you went to study at the university?

I actually had planned on being an elementary teacher when I first applied to college. That lasted about two years, before I realized I was woefully unsuited to teaching. As luck would have it, though, SFSU had an incredible creative writing program, and I had a great experience with my schooling from that point on.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your plans for the future?

Mostly to continue working on short stories for now, while also prodding at the inevitable novel. I’m also working on a few collaborative projects with friends, but those are in the early stages, so we’ll see.

Geosi Gyasi: This may sound silly to ask but is it true that you work from your apartment in Portland and mostly wear Pajamas?

It is indeed. One of the best bits about my job is the fact that I can work from home, and that means I’m free to wear pajamas as much as I like. (Which is essentially all of the time.)

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have greatly inspired your writing?

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is certainly at the top of my list. In that novel, she manages to make an anarchist society seem completely plausible, without ever sounding preachy. I think, in part, that’s because it’s not a perfect utopia – it’s just as flawed as our own world – and that was a revelation for me.

END.


Interview with Zimbabwean Writer, Tendai Huchu

April 14, 2015
Photo: Tendai Huchu

Photo: Tendai Huchu

Brief Biography:

Tendai Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. His multi-genre short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, Interzone, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report and elsewhere. His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician.

Geosi Gyasi: Perhaps, we could start with your new novel, “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician”. Could you tell us how you came to write it?

Tendai Huchu: I wanted to tell a story about the time and the city I live in. When you’ve been doing this thing for a good while, you’re hit by ideas near enough every day, and the hard part is choosing which to discard and which to run with. I guess I wrote this because the idea was super loud in my head and wouldn’t go away. Writing the book then became a form of exorcism.

Geosi Gyasi: The title of the book is interesting. How did you arrive at the title?

Tendai Huchu: The title is a bit of a misnomer because the book contains some misdirection. But I liked the alliteration in the mmm.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a novel?

Tendai Huchu: I haven’t figured it out yet. I think you have to approach each work as it comes. My first novel was very spontaneous, but that wouldn’t fly with this book because it required a lot of careful architectural planning to work as a whole. The project I’m moving on to next requires a lot of historical research. The two crucial ingredients you need are time and determination, outside of that it’s there but for the grace…

Geosi Gyasi: In a few sentences, could you tell us what “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” is all about?

Tendai Huchu: It’s about three men living in Edinburgh, trying to find a place for themselves in the city. It’s a novel about ideas, music, memory, love, that kind of shit.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write the book?

Tendai Huchu: Three years or thereabouts. A lot of false starts and U-turns in the process. Madness.

Geosi Gyasi: How different is “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” different from your first novel, “The Hairdresser of Harare”?

Tendai Huchu: I think stylistically, thematically and structurally, it’s a little more complex. You have to take each idea as it comes and find the correct form in which it will manifest as a novel.

Geosi Gyasi: Between the two books, which of them do you feel more closely attached to?

Tendai Huchu: I’m more attached to the book I’m thinking of writing next. And when that’s done, I shall be more attached to the one that comes after.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you often depend on personal experiences to write?

Tendai Huchu: Not really, no. I mean you obviously have to know something to write it, but the fun is in taking imaginative leaps and putting yourself in your characters’ stilettos.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?

Tendai Huchu: It can be difficult, frustrating and a host of other shitty things, but boring is never one of them. I mean you’re creating stuff, dude; that’s so much fun. You’re the cat who’s like, “Let there be light,” and there is light. Could you ever get bored with that kind of magic wand?

Geosi Gyasi: Is there anything interesting about writing?

Tendai Huchu: There are no boundaries, no limits whatsoever; it can be anything that you want it to be. It’s not interesting, it’s Amazing. Brings out the kid in me.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: This could go into my records as the most witless question I’ve ever asked but why do you write?

Tendai Huchu: It’s an impulse. We all have the storytelling gene inside of us. I read a lot, and I fantasise that when I write, I’m only telling the story that I want to read, but it’s not there in my library yet.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you follow the political situation in Zimbabwe?

Tendai Huchu: Fairly often. I have an interest in politics around the world. Whether you like it or not, politics is about people and power, and it governs every aspect of your life – what you can or cannot say, who you may or may not marry, whether your faith is permissible or not, the quality of air you breathe, the salt in your food, whether you even have the right to exist or not…

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your books?

Tendai Huchu: I’ve met diverse readers along the way at literary events and stuff. I get the occasional email from someone who’s been touched by my work, which is really cool. Readers are gracious and kind in the main and one can only be grateful when someone else takes the time to engage with their work.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get the idea for your story, “The Second Coming of Dambudzo Marechera”?

Tendai Huchu: Fungai Machirori who runs Her Zimbabwe suggested we do something for Marechera’s anniversary last year. I thought I’d do a pastiche of the guy and it was a lot of fun. The idea was to have just enough in there from his original works to fool the reader into thinking it might just be plausible, then, around that base code, I had room to do my own thing.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us anything about Dambudzo Marechera?

Tendai Huchu: Easily the most popular and influential Zimbabwean writer ever. He’s a sort of cultural icon, though few people actually engage with his work, so he has that special quality of being everything to everyone.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writer has had the greatest influence on your writing?

Tendai Huchu: I read a lot and am constantly getting influenced by different writers at different phases in my life. I really couldn’t pick one.

Geosi Gyasi: How different is a novel different from a short story?

Tendai Huchu: The most obvious answer is that the length constraints in the short story require a certain economy where the novel can be more forgiving. The short story demands precision. You often have to dispense with the build up and start smack-bang in the action. It’s debatable whether the form is truly as immersive as the novel, but for the writer, working in the short form requires s/he put on a different head.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writers are boring to hang around with?

Tendai Huchu: That stereotype is pretty much true, except for the sci-fi crowd which is full of really, really interesting people with the most fascinating ideas you can imagine.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your literary plans for the future?

Tendai Huchu: At the moment I’m translating Mapenzi by Ignatius Mabasa from Shona to English. I’ll be on that project for the next couple of months. Outside of that, I have no real plans; just take it one day at a time, I suppose.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you an avid reader?

Tendai Huchu: Yep. I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t a reader. I don’t think anyone can truly engage with any established craft unless they’re a fan first. Imagine the footballer who says he wants to play but he doesn’t give a hoot about watching the game, doesn’t know the greats – Pele, Maradona – let alone the rules of the game, but somehow the motherfucker wants to jam for Man United. How does that work?

Geosi Gyasi: What are you likely to be caught doing if not writing?

Tendai Huchu: Cycle a bit. Walk now and again. Watch popular movies a lot – I’m talking blockbusters with loads of explosions: think Michael Bay. Live life and wait for the next idea.

END.


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