Saturday, July 02, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jason B. Crawford

Jason B.Crawford (They/Them) is a writer born in Washington DC, raised in Lansing, MI. Their debut chapbook collection Summertime Fine is out through Variant Lit. Their second chapbook Twerkable Moments is out from Paper Nautilus Press. Their third chapbook, Good Boi, is out from Neon Hemlock press. Their debut Full Length Year of the Unicorn Kidz was published in 2022 from Sundress Publications. Crawford holds a Bachelor of Science in Creative Writing from Eastern Michigan University and is the co-founder of The Knight’s Library Magazine. Crawford is the winner of the Courtney Valentine Prize for Outstanding Work by a Millennial Artist, Vella Chapbook Contest, and Variant Lit Chapbook Contest.  They are the 2021 OutWrite chapbook contest winner in poetry. Their work can be found in Split Lip Magazine, Glass Poetry, Four Way Review, Voicemail poems, FreezeRay Poetry, HAD, among others. They are a current poetry MFA candidate at The New School.

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

My first chapbook, Summertime Fine, gave me the space to understand what MY poetics were and how they fit into the context of the larger conversation. I spent so much of my undergrad in writing trying to fit the mold of what I was being taught. As a rebel, I also tried to push against the “typical” poetic path and forge my own sense of what my poetry would hold. This pushed me to watching and reading poets such as Danez Smith, sam sax, Desiree Dallagiacomo, Porsha O, the list goes on. As a young poet, I often tried to pattern my poetics after these poets, losing my own voice in the process. Summertime Fine helped me step into my own;  Year of the Unicorn Kidz is further proof of what I can do when focusing on my own narrative and voice.

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

Funny enough, I started as a fiction major at Eastern Michigan University. My professor, Rob Halpern, had me read my poem in front of the class that he encouraged me to rewrite. My love of poetry grew from there.

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?

The typical first draft for me is not that long, maybe a few days per poem at most. Year of the Unicorn Kidz was completed in 3 weeks for most of the poems (some poems predated the start of the collection) however with edits, it did take a few months to hash out.

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?

Most of my work is project based. I work best when thinking of a set goal or selected outcome of the poems. When I have an idea to work towards, I am able to put out a few poems a day towards it. However, when I am just writing to write, I often feel aimless and it takes awhile for me to produce any work that feels worthwhile.

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

I love going to open mics, reading in front of people (even in zoom), checking to see if parts of the poem go off the way I intended during the writing process. I use reading to my friends and at public events  as an editing tool, honestly. I actually use reading out loud as a tool to double check the way the poem sounds. Not only am I huge on the rhyme of my poems, but I want to make sure what I am trying to say is coming through in the poem.

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?

My work focuses  mainly on Blackness and Queerness in terms of survival and joy. Every poem, essay, fiction piece, anything I write will somehow include Blackness and Queerness because it comes from me.

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?

This is a complicated question, we as writers are: the Visionaries, the idealist, the creators of space, the pacifist, the protesters, the builders, the Believers, and so much more. People are looking to writers to help guide society in the right direction.  Sometimes this feels like too much pressure, I would love to just be a writer without the added weight, but I honestly I agree with how society looks toward writers at this moment

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

All my work goes through other writers and editors before I send it out. My little sister Taylor Byas and my darling Sofia Fey are some of the first eyes to see my work. I also go to a few workshops every couple months when I feel stuck on a piece. I believe collaboration when it comes to editing is the best form of community.

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

There are two things I have been told that I hold true everyday when it comes to my craft and skills in writing: 1. You  are not going to write something successful everyday nor will you successfully write everyday but that does not make you any less of a writer. 2. Taylor Byas once told me that she posts her drafts on Twitter because her favorite part of writing is sharing it with her friends.

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?

I typically write when I can or while I’m moving around. I did, however, start a practice of writing every single day for 2022, my goal is to write 365 pieces this year. The writing is still sporadic and sometimes ends up is being completed at the end of the night, but the work is being created.

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

In the creation of Year of the Unicorn Kidz, I found myself returning to Danez Smith’s Homie, Sam Sax’s Bury It, Sam Herschel Wein’s Fruit Mansion, and Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Cheesecake, walking into an empty basketball gym, grilled ribs and mac and cheese, and Malibu cologne. Maybe hot chocolate with too much french vanilla creamer and marshmallows.

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?

For my first two chapbooks, music influenced me a lot. In “Twerkable Moments,” I wanted to be able to create a SoulTrain feel for the poems. We spend so much time dying, why not spend some time celebrating? In the collection I am polishing up to send out, nature and climate change play a very big role.

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

It goes without saying for the first two, Danez Smith and Jonah Mixon-Webster. sam sax is also a huge influence, especially when it comes to Year of the Unicorn Kidz. Taylor Byas, not just because she is my little sister, but because she makes me want to write better. I love the ways she challenges the page. I am always working towards what she is doing (I also said I need to stop mentioning her in my interviews and here we are.)

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

My dream is to open up a nonprofit literary center for LGBT youths. A space where you are safe to be yourself and love who you want. A space filled with books that reflect who fills the seats. A space where wonderful LGBTQIA artist and writers can come speak to share what “It Gets Better” could really mean. Offering resources and space, but most of all, offering love that they might not be experiencing at home. That is something I started in 2019 and I would love to get back to that.

16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I actually started off in the education program at Eastern Michigan University, as a math major on top of that. My passion as a child was always to write songs and play basketball, however, my father told me I had to do something practical so I chose to follow in his footsteps and start teaching. I soon learned I had a passion for teaching as well, but I could not sustain that passion during undergrad. The politics of teaching turned me off to being in a classroom. One class did help me realize I loved to write and that I could do it full time if I wanted. I am not there yet but I’m getting there.

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

I have just started Joshua Nyugen’s book Come Clean. It is brilliant in the ways he folds language like laundry. As for most of us writing our first full lengths, it is a coming of age story, but those never get old. I am currently STUCK on Disney’s Encanto it is such a beautiful film with amazing music. Also, I can’t wait to see SING 2 because the first one has had me in a chokehold for five years.

18 - What are you currently working on?

My current project centers around colonialism and migration through storytelling and Afrofuturism. I am looking to tell the story of “what if  we left this planet? What does leaving look like? What does colonization of different planets mean? Who do we leave behind in our leaving?”

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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