Since April is National Poetry Month, it’s fitting that I should introduce you to a fellow Canadian writer, Adebe D.A. Her first book of poetry, ex nihilo, comes out this month and she graciously agreed to share some of her insights and experiences with us.
1. Tell us a little bit about your childhood, in particular the kind of books you read (at home and in school) and your family’s attitude toward literature/storytelling/the arts.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been inspired by life as it happens. I have always found the inspiration in things, as opposed to waiting for inspiration to strike. I read voraciously. My sources (parents) tell me I was picking up the newspaper at two. I composed my first short story at six, with the help of my father, who was the cornerstone of my education. My mom was also largely influential as an educator and artist. Together, they introduced me to the realm of words, the beauty of language, of orature, storytelling, and eventually, writing. As activist parents, who married interracially at a time when it was still somewhat taboo, I would say my writing reflects a sense of forwardness. The political horizon that has literally and figuratively colored my upbringing has also been the force, at least in part, that catapulted me into the literary and spoken word arts. Nowadays, I make sure I am taking the plunge with my writing. I continue to be inspired by others whose visions match the contours of my own, contours that were sketched in early.
2. You were named Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. What is the significance of that title, and do you feel most young people in Canada today grow up believing they have a future in the arts?
I’ve worked with youth as a program head for a spoken word collective, S.T.E.P. U.P. (Speech That Enlightens People Uplifts Places), which was developed to provide Toronto-based youth with the opportunity to critically explore social and cultural issues via the literary medium. Youth were provided with an open working environment and weekly workshops, where they were prompted to enhance their writing and performance skills while building confidence and a greater sense of expression. Helping develop confidence in young artists in Canada and elsewhere is more than teaching them the ropes about technique, style, content, form…it’s about helping them feel wholly capable of making positive artistic contributions to family, community, society, nation, and possibly world, as they arrive as writers and performers of the new generation. My contribution to the arts as a young person was solidified with the laureateship; an early testament to my commitment to helping amplify the voice of the new generation.
3. Describe ex nihilo, your first book of poetry. In the era of iPods, spoken word poetry, & hip hop, can poetry exist on the pages of a book?
My poetry does! I refuse to believe that poetry, or the written word, is an endangered species. Nor do I think the breathless rise of social media and invention of gadgets signify the death of books; I think they signify a resurrection, or reincarnation of sorts. So long as we keep reading, taking words in, giving time to the literary arts and supporting the artists around us, it doesn`t matter what poetry we are exposed to, or how it gets exposed to us. What matters is that we embrace the arts alongside the technology. My debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House, 2010), is all about the question of art and identity as creations ex nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”). As we move forward into the present, the immateriality of new technologies is what allows us to engage in endless discursive creativity. With them, we travel farther, and can cover more bases.
4. You’re also editing an anthology of writing by mixed-race women. In a moment that some call “post-racial,” why do we need to hear the voices of women whom many perceive as overexposed? It depends on who you ask, and what their stake in the discourse of racial identity is. From what I can say, the desire for mixed-race peoples to be acknowledged as social subjects on a transhistorical plane has largely been a question of an either/or identity. Once upon a time, the one-drop rule meant you either identified as Black and dealt with the legacy of dispossession and invisibility attributed to being Black in America, or you uneasily passed for white. Today, we have a new problematic terrain to consider: why wouldn’t mixed-race peoples want to identify as Black? Still, there is the question of authenticity mixed-race folks have to contend with, a question which has continued to situate them/us into an exilic space of neither/nor. All those slashes, dashes, and margins; what do they amount to? Instead of addressing this set of questions, many multiracial activists have taken the celebratory route, insisting on the right to claim a true mixed self that is multiple, relational, and hyphen-happy. I’m more interested in considering how, and if, the mixed-race self can be composed of disparate identities in relation to each other… not in opposition to one another, or where “one” identity has to replace another. If we say it is a political move to identify as Black, we suggest that identifying as mixed is apolitical. The nuance is not in what you choose at day’s end; it’s about the legacy of a haunted racial politics that refuses to account for the experience of the racially ambiguous, to give our experience legitimacy. Other Tongues offers a creative way to address the above by allowing poets, artists, and the like to become part of the discourses surrounding race and gender as they pertain to mixed-race women in this specific time in herstory…which, of course, is also one that marks the inauguration of the first mixed-race/Black President in North American history. The anthology is not merely “giving” a space for women to enter this discourse; it is reminding us that such a discourse, contrary to the “post-race” position, is not something for the history books just yet.
5. Lastly, you spend part of your time writing in NYC. How would you compare racial discourse in Canada and the US?
In some ways, I see racial subjectivity as literally a travelling act. I feel that the way I see myself, how I align my political solidarities, changes depending on where I’m geographically placed. In New York, my literary ancestors are almost physically tangible; there is a history you can feel as you walk down the streets. I’ve lived in a few other places, traveled to various towns and cities in America, and there is a legacy of the color-line you just have to face, which isn’t the case in Canada, per se. In Canada, race politics is about having to listen for silences and look for gaps; then again, it is ripe with possibilities for speaking up and out, and not merely against. I think it’s important for writers to take their ideas on the road. As Frantz Fanon once said, “In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself…”