Tuesday, August 04, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Donald Vincent

Donald Vincent is the author of Convenient Amnesia (Broadstone Books). He is also Mr. Hip, a recording artist and lover of all things art. He currently teaches English Composition at UCLA and African American Literature at Emerson College - Los Angeles. When he is not teaching, he can be found in the kitchen tinkering with plant-based recipes or recording music. Originally from Southeast, DC, he currently resides in Los Angeles and at https://www.hidonaldvincent.com

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Answer: My first book changed my life because I get to see how many people that inspire me and I look up to revere my work. It’s like, okay. I got the first book out of the way, now let’s finish the third one before the publishing date. I get to share my stories with a larger audience. But the biggest change is that I can serve as a blueprint for people who want to write a book and are told that they will never be able to write a book.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Answer: Music. It was always music. As a kid I hated writing poetry that rhymed because kids would tease me and say it was too hip-hoppy to be a poem. I learned how different forms and sounds work in a poem and never looked back.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Answer: It honestly depends on the genre. I prefer smaller projects because I put out so much content and we live in this crazy, digital world. I also understand the need for research and a thorough understanding of a project which can take time to complete. I’m a first draft, feedback, and revise kind of guy. I truly believe that a poem is never finished. But that might be controversial in the poetry world.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Answer: Usually a mix of both. I might think of an idea and begin a poem that is a part of a much larger conversation. And it ends up being a book. Or, I might look at a collection of photos, like Carrie Mae Weems’ kitchen table series and say, yeah, let’s sit down to write this book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Answer: I’m a natural performer. I hosted Mr. Hip Presents, a poetry reading series, for over 4 years. The series combines poetry, spoken word artists, singers, musicians, and artists. It was such a big hit in Boston. I love providing a space for poetry. It is something that everyone can find solace in.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Answer: The biggest theoretical concern behind my writing is representation and the consequences of race as a hierarchical social concept. The biggest question I am trying to answer in my work is: Why? Through my writing, I have found the answers and I hope the reader sees as well.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Answer: Richard Blanco once said, “art goes where no politician has ever gone before.” The role of writing is to tell stories, to inform, to express. The role of the writer is necessary especially when  there is actionable items that comes from healthy discourse. I tried to change the world by sitting at a desk at a government job, and it is impossible. With being a writer, the possibilities of changing the world are endless.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Answer: I love the collaboration. It is a great start to making a great piece even doper. I always think critical feedback is essential. However, if I’ve learned anything from an MFA workshop, you should always go with your gut.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Answer: I’m usually the one to give the advice. I’ve never had someone actually sit me down to give me advice. If I had to give a more concrete answer, I’d say: Be yourself 95% of the time.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Answer: I write in the morning before I open my emails and actually start the day. It gives me a fresh start each morning. I’m always dealing with a problem about a particular topic/issue and it seems to work itself out in my sleep.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Answer: I read. Go for a walk. The poet Dara Wier once told me, no matter what you’re doing, you’re always writing. I love my picture books of artists  Basquiat and Charles White. There’s always so much inspiration from their works.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Answer: Easy! I’m so neurotic about smells. I’d say tangerine, eucalyptus, lilies, and a fresh cuppa Pu’erh tea.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Answer: Visual art is my primary muse. And sometimes films. I see my work as being ekphrastic and having a two-way conversation with the art that inspires me. I’m also a fan of Virgil Abloh and how he manages to approach humanity through an international lens. Such a big fan of his design work.

Hip-hop culture influences my work the most. Not just the music, but the culture.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Answer: Those writers I am in conversation with. I’m inspired by Fred Moten, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Lucille Clifton, Kay Ryan, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop. Amiri Baraka is also that guy! I’m really a big fan of Young Thug. I truly enjoy what he does for music.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Answer: I’d really like to live in France. I love the culture.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Answer: I’d like to be a chef that focuses on taste and health benefits of juicing. Either that or a professional art critic. We need more representation there.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Answer: I love it. I tried not to be a writer, but everything has pointed me in this direction. I’m more of a communicator than a writer though. I’ve always been misunderstood and forced to fit many different social situations. Writing helps me to navigate the pool of difference.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Answer: The last great book that I’ve read was Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys. I’m always reading great books. I currently curate a digital book club, Hip Reads through Discord. Our next book is Severance by Ling Ma.

I watch so many great films. Even bad films are great. I’d say it would have to be a tie between Bruno Dumont’s CoinCoin (I thought it was a fantastic follow-up to Lil QuinQuin) or Parasite.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Answer: I’m currently working on a collection of critical essays and art criticism about how blackness is constantly being redefined through the practice of visual art. I’m always writing poetry, but I’m focusing on research about multiculturalism and inclusive pedagogy for higher education English Composition courses.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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