Walidah Imarisha Talks Punk, Genrecide, and Her Racial Ideology

Art, poetry, talk, Uncategorized, Words

Interview by Alyssa Campbell

kaylaartArtwork by Kayla Gutierrez

“I think writing should be less like a factory and more like a garden, nurturing and watering, but allowing what is growing to take new, sometimes surprising, and often beautiful shapes,” Walidah Imarisha tells me.

The first time I met Imarisha was in January, 2015, when she was featured as the keynote speaker to present “Oregon’s Racial History and King’s Vision of Justice,” for a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Majestic Theatre, in Corvallis, Ore.

You couldn’t deny the power of her presence when she spoke: she was confident, fearless, and completely unapologetic for who she is and what she stands for. I remember the instant goosebumps when she kicked off with a spoken word poem, and by the end of her presentation the entire theatre stood for a round of applause. I thought to myself “I want to be like her one day, I want to have that kind of impact with my words.” Since then, I’ve attended a book signing, multiple lectures, workshops, and have been lucky enough to sit one-on-one for a personal interview with Imarisha.

Imarisha is a public scholar, spoken word artist, writer, activist, journalist, and educator, who currently lectures at Stanford University’s Program of Writing and Rhetoric. She’s taught at Portland State University’s Black Studies Department, Oregon State University’s Women Studies Department, and Southern New Hampshire University’s English and Literature Department.

Growing up on military base, Imarisha says the support from her mother showed her the possibilities of what she could achieve.

“My mom has been very foundational to me. She doesn’t necessarily call herself a feminist, but she absolutely is where I learned feminist principles,” said Imarisha. “She was like ‘We’re going to travel, we’re going to see the world, we’re going to do what we want to do, and I’m not going to let someone tell either of us what we can or can’t do.’ She also always taught me to be true to myself.”

She is well known for her statewide presentation: “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” and for creating the expression “visionary fiction.” Some of her work includes but is not limited to: author of the poetry collection “Scars/Stars,” and the creative nonfiction “Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption,” co-editing the anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” and was an editor for the anthology “Another World is Possible.”

Has it always been a dream of yours to be in the position that you’re in with your career?

I definitely always wanted to be a writer. And I think the idea of communicating ideas and thoughts is something that’s foundational, and kind of the core of everything that I do. I think it’s more about finding different mediums for conveying ideas, and starting conversations, getting folks to think differently.

I definitely see all of my work as intertwined and interrelated. Sometimes poetry is more effective for some things, sometimes an academic format is more effective, sometimes poetry writing workshops are more effective. All the time science fiction is more effective.

I also feel the core of everything I do is a commitment to justice and a commitment to trying and revisioning the world and dreaming better futures, and so I think my life has taken a very circuitous route and gone many different places, I’m doing things that I didn’t imagine I would be doing. But I think that it was kind of keeping that as my guiding light, as my north star, and it has never steered me wrong.

When did your love for sci-fi begin?

Science fiction was one of the few genres where you actually got to see through the eyes of “the other.” And they may be a green person, or someone with tentacles, but the ways they were treated felt much more familiar.

Part of what drew me was that I got to hear stories from the alien’s perspective, from the perspective of people who felt familiar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting to read literature written by folks of color, but it felt like I was getting closer to hearing marginalized voices than in most other genres.

The space of saying whatever you can imagine is possible was incredibly compelling to me. I also think even though I wasn’t able to articulate it as a child, I understood that the aliens were more like me, than I was like most of the main characters.

How do you decide which outlet you want to use when curating new writings?

Most of the time it’s not a conscious decision, if I’m just writing, it’ll come out however it comes out. Sometimes I have no idea what it is I’m like: Is that a poem? Is that a short story? I don’t know what that is. Is that an essay, a personal essay? Sometimes it’s about the projects I’m working on, or things people ask me to do.

I used to be in a punk band; I started liking punk in high school and I definitely felt like it spoke to my feelings and my rage and my sensibilities. I really was drawn to the idea that we can do it ourselves, to be creative, and to question everything we’re told.

And also, when I discovered mosh pits I was like: this is an amazing outlet for the rage I feel as a young black woman every single day.

How old were you when you when you started getting into punk?

I started getting into punk while I was going to high school, I must have been 15 or 16, when I lived in Springfield, Ore., and it was all white. The bands I listened to were white, the people were white, and there were three of us who were brown. So I was like “I guess this is a white thing and I like it.”

I was lucky enough when I moved to Philadelphia, to the East coast, I got to meet punks of color, and folks who were very clear that actually punk music is rooted in black music. So I ended up hearing the band that I joined Ricanstruction. They’re all Puerto Rican, and considered themselves to be black.

They talked about the fact that Puerto Rican folks, caribbean folks, all have African heritage, and are black regardless of shade and facial features. It was really helpful because my mom is white and my dad is black, so obviously I grew up with white people being very clear that I was black. But also not necessarily feeling like I connected everywhere with “blackness” entirely.

So it was really useful to engage with these folks who were like “black is a political decision, and we choose to be black because we stand in solidarity with people who are the most oppressed.” And I was like “Word! Alright.” They were incredible musicians, all of them were some of the best musicians for their fields that I’ve ever met, and they were also all rooted in the intersections of music.

They loved punk, they also loved salsa and reggae, and hip hop; every form of music, soul and rock. Our lead singer used to say we committed “genrecide” by saying “these aren’t neat boxes, this is all music,” and he was like “this is all black music,” and it all has common roots, so we don’t have to be like “this is our punk song, this is our soul song.” So people would listen and be like “we don’t know what ya’ll are doing.”

That’s the best part, when you can’t fit someone in a category, when it’s just something that you feel.

I’m really glad I came into punk, and came to that band for many different reasons. I think it gave me my political ideological foundation, but I also think it really influenced my own writing of saying “I don’t have to accept genres, and I can commit genrecide in my writing as well.”

I think with “Octavia’s Brood,” and the science fiction anthology written by organizers that I edited, when I approached publishers they were like “we don’t even know how to sell this, or market it.” And we were like that’s fine we’re committing genrecide, we don’t have to be put in a little box.

Especially with my latest book “Angels With Dirty Faces,” I actually had an agent who said “I love this book, it’s amazing, but I have no idea how I would market it to a publishing company. Because it’s memoirs/true crime/analysis/racial ideology/sociology/ with poetic writing, I don’t know where it fits.”

It certainly makes commercial success harder, but I think it makes life more organic and real to be your full, complete self, and bring all of your pieces to all that you do.

*On her racial ideology*

It was really important for me, learning about black liberation movements, especially the Black Panther Party, and getting to engage with political prisoners from that era. Specifically Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther and political prisoner.

I started writing him while I was in college, and then when I moved to Philadelphia he was being held in Pennsylvania, so every month I would go visit him. I think it was really helpful for my racial ideology, because I think I had a little of what I call “the bi-racial blues,” of being like “I don’t fit in anywhere, no one wants me.”

Sundiata was helping me see the differences between different community’s reactions, because I think a lot of times, when, especially mixed black folks are feeling like “white folks don’t want me; black folks don’t want me.”

But what Sundiata said was often times when black folks were saying things like “you sound white,” or “why do you act like a white girl,” what they’re saying is, “are you going to take the privileges that you have, that I can very much see you have and leave us when it becomes convenient, or are you going to be part of this community?”

It was life changing. I think I was 18 or 19 when he told me that and we were in a prison visiting room, and I wanted to cry.

*On Black Lives Matter*

I think it’s an important movement that’s happening right now. There’s a struggle for justice in every generation, every generation has work to do.

I feel like Black Lives Matter is part of a long lineage of black survival movements in this nation that says “we will claim our right to exist. And we will claim our right to exist as we want to exist, not as you tell us we should exist.”

I think focusing on Black Lives Matter, what we do want, is visionary. It’s also science fiction, because black lives don’t matter to mainstream America, and they have never mattered to mainstream America. It’s kind of pulling this future into the present.

It’s saying “we will live this science fiction dream as if it was reality, until it becomes reality.”

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What You Call Love, Baby I Call Hell

music, Uncategorized

A Conversation with Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards of Deap Vally

By Madison Killian

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Deap Vally and Wolfmother at The Showbox, Seattle

I’m sitting backstage at The Showbox in Seattle across from Pikes Place Market. The walls are a shiny valentine’s day red, the couches are purple velvet. As I stared at the band sitting in front of me, it was apparent that there was going to be no beating around the bush, they had nothing to hide. Sitting atop the purple throne was a fresh-faced brunette in a tattered black t-shirt, wielding a crochet needle. Directly next to her is a stunning blonde with wild curls, holding a contraption up to her breast, pumping.

I interviewed Deap Vally on March 31st before their show in Seattle opening up for Wolfmother. After shaking Julie’s left hand (her right hand was occupied…) and Lindsey had set aside her yarn ball- I realized that this was the most rock ‘n roll thing I could possibly witness in my lifetime.

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Photo by Rebekkah Drake

Sucker: How are the two of you enjoying Seattle?

Lindsey: We went yarn shopping. I’m stoked because I have two half done hats, and I didn’t have the yarn to finish them.

Sucker: How’s touring with Wolfmother been?

Julie: Good.

Lindsey: They’re killer, great guys.

Sucker: Were you fans of Wolfmother before the tour?

Both: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Sucker: What’s a band that you’ve toured with that’s really inspired you/ been an honor to share a stage with?

Julie: Queens of the Stone Age and Yeah Yeah Yeahs for sure.

Sucker: Yeah, last time I talked to you guys you mentioned being big fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Lindsey: Well, yeah and then, I mean, Nick [Zinner, of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] ended up producing our new record. I learned a lot from him. He’s a good guy.

Sucker: You guys have a new album, is there a release date at all?

Julie: It’ll be coming out around the Fall.

Lindsey: Not that release dates stay true anyways…

Sucker: Out of curiosity… What makes a release date so ever-changing when the album is basically done?

Julie: Yeah, so the albums done… But we haven’t signed on the dotted line with our label yet. So, you know… At this exact moment in time, there can’t technically be a release date.

Sucker: What is the hardest song for you to play live?

Lindsey: There’s a new song on the record that we haven’t played live yet, cause it’s like, really fuckin’ hard for me to do. We just have to practice it. In a weird way, a lot of our songs- we’ve been able to play with a minimal amount of practicing. We have this new song that we love- it’s great. We don’t record live and all at once- we do some multi-tracking. And we wrote the vocals after the music was written; I think when you write vocals like that, it’s harder to learn how to sing and play at the same time. Whatever you write and play at the same time is going to be natural.

Julie: We just have to rehearse it. Another one from the first record is “Woman of Intention.” That one’s hard for me. Maybe it isn’t still hard, but it was hard the first couple of years. It would just like, wear me out, it was really exhausting.

Lindsey: We just never knew how that song ended. The ending was just an eternal question mark. *looks at Julie* remember? *Lindsay sings a few ending “oohs”*

Julie: *laughs*

Sucker: If you guys weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?

Julie: I would be a psychologist. I’d probably go back to school for that.

Lindsey: Maybe a writer or filmmaker/ actor. Or a live drawing model. I like the idea of being one of those naked models for a drawing class. Iggy Pop just did that!

Sucker: How do you handle juggling your personal life and touring? Like… Julie, you’re breast pumping right now. How do you factor it all in?

Lindsey: It’s how she gets pumped up!

Julie: Right now [Lindsey’s] boyfriend is on tour with us because he’s documenting the tour- so that’s perfect. She has her personal life here with us. In the past, my husband has tour managed and come on tour for a little bit. When we were at South By Southwest my baby was there. It’s tricky, because when you’re on tour you’re in the little bubble of the tour family. Life continues on without you back home. Everyone you know continues to have their lives together and your life doesn’t really advance with everybody back home.

Lindsey: Restaurants close, new restaurants open. That’s the wildest part. It’s like watching a time-lapse video when you go back to your neighborhood and your favorite restaurant is closing and a new douche-y bar is opening up.

Julie: I think the thing that’s closest to what touring musicians do is military deployment or oil-rig jobs, or long haul fishing.

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Suddenly a mess of  dark hair appeared next to me, and a warm smile greets the three of us. Ian Peres, the bassist and keyboardist for Wolfmother stumbled in on our conversation. *************************************************************************************************

Ian: How do you guys know each other?

Julie: We’re doing an interview!

Ian: Oh! I’m so sorry…

Lindsey: *To Ian* How was your night? You got hammered, it was awesome.

Ian: Yeah…

Lindsey: That’s what you gotta do, man.

Ian: Portland was good to me. It was good… to US.

Sucker: What’d you guys do in Portland?

Lindsey: We stayed with my cousin. We got to stay there for two nights! She has a nice big house- with a full fridge, fresh eggs from his chicken… really nice. You know? It was a luxury for us. We kept it pretty mellow. These guys *gestures to Ian* got to party a bit more.

Ian: I’m a bit more hardcore. I went straight to ground control and played video games for a couple hours.

Sucker: When was the last time you guys played Seattle?

Julie: We played here a year ago, opening for Marilyn Manson.

Lindsey: That was a trip. I played bass with White Lung- my friend’s punk band- over the summer, and we played a couple shows in Seattle as well.

Sucker: What are you guys like on tour? Do you do a lot of partying?

Julie: We’re pretty mellow…

Sucker: Has that changed throughout the course of your band?

Julie: There was one tour we had where I feel like we really went for it. Most of them aren’t like that. You really need a stamina to party like that when you’re travelling. I know I don’t have it…

Lindsey: She’s also been married… Like, I was single for a long time and I was partying more than her- which isn’t really saying much.

Julie: If you drank a beer right now, you’d be partying harder than I do.

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(I supress the urge to tell her that I, in fact, drank half a bottle of wine before this interview to calm my nerves)

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bryan sheffield

Photo by Bryan Sheffield

Lindsey: You know, we have the nights that we let loose. You just can’t do it every night- I’ll get sick.

Julie: Yeah, also Lindsay really has to protect her voice when we’re on really long tours. Alcohol doesn’t always really lend itself to that.

Lindsey: Also, when you’re stuck in a van all day… you don’t want to have a hangover. It’s not great.

Julie: These guys [Wolfmother]… they’re in a bus. So, the bus drives all night, and they wake up in the city. I think that environment lends itself to… doing whatever the fuck.

Lindsey: And don’t get me wrong, there are nights we’ve partied really hard. I partied really hard the night before we went to Auschwitz. They party there. All the people were showing us a really good time. They drink a lot of vodka and stuff. The next day I was like… trainwrecked. I was not happy, and it was pouring rain. I couldn’t face it. Julie went, (To Auschwitz) and the rest of our crew went. I just felt like a piece of shit.

Sucker: What’s the first thing you guys are going to do when you get home from tour?

Lindsey: I’ll probably have some girl time with my L.A. bestie. I’ve known her for like 7 years.

Julie: Hug my little baby. She’s at home with daddy and grandparents.

Julie proceeds to lean forward and show me not only adorable photos, but videos of her infant daughter. I remain composed, but just barely.

Sucker: How old is she?

Julie: She’s almost 4 months.

Sucker: Have you already planned out which instrument she’s going to play?

Julie: She’s going to be a figure skater.

Keep in mind, during this entire part of the conversation, a video of Julie’s daughter laughing at an electronic whoopee cushion is playing in the background.

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Photo by John Moffat

Julie ended up having that beer and announcing to the crowd “I don’t have to breastfeed until tour is over!”

After some face melting guitar riffs and eardrum perforating drum solos, Lindsey’s icy stare locked onto the crowd while she began to chant “I am not ashamed of my rage.”

Deap Vally had taken Seattle by the throat. The band finished up the show and walked offstage to roars of applause.

After the set, I decided to do some recon in the ladies room (where else?) What I found was complete mayhem.

“What was that band’s name?!”

“They were so good. The singer was fucking amazing!”

“I’m going to buy a CD and a t-shirt… they’re my new favorite band”

By the throat.

As for the band- you can keep up with them

As for the band- be sure to check out their latest release Royal Jelly, and if you haven’t already- check out our last interview with the band where they talk Nick Zinner, the band’s formation, and more…

WHO IS COLLEEN GREEN?

music, Uncategorized

By: Madison Killian

Who is Colleen Green? According to her Facebook page, Colleen Green is Anything. Colleen Green is Nothing.

We chatted with Colleen and talked her into revealing a little bit more information about herself. 

You decide: Anything? or nothing?

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Photo by Eric Penna, Courtesy of Hardly Art Records