Q: How do you self-identify?
I’m Afro-Caribbean / Afro-Latinx. Being proud of one’s Africanness, of one’s Negritude starts out as a defense mechanism. You say to yourself, “My skin color, my kinky/curly hair, my nose and lips, are beautiful.” As you learn how white supremacy operates you realize you never should’ve doubted it. At the same time, I claim America and being American because of how much it has stolen from Us (Indigenous, African, Asian, Latinx, etc.). And because of how much we’ve given to America. It does not get to leave me out. I use he/him pronouns.
Q: Where do you currently live/reside?
I live in New Jersey. I’m about 30 minutes outside of NYC.
I’m a member of the Brick City Collective, a multicultural multimedia group of Newark-native writers /artists working for social change through literature and art. Also, my MFA family and I go by the unofficial name, the Get Fresh Crew. I also run the cooperative press Get Fresh Books, LLC. Slowly but surely we doing big things. Check us out!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the poem you submitted?
My grandmother passed away in March 2017. One of the coping mechanisms I chose was to participate in a 30/30 writing challenge. My grandma was so present in my every moment as I mourned her, I ended up writing her an elegy everyday for almost two months. She raised me so I call her Mami as well.
Q: How did you get your writing/performing start?
As a kid I would write a lot of comic book stories. I’d take my favorite characters and make up my own adventures for them. Later on me and my boys started a rap group! We’d watch VJ Ralph McDaniels on Video Music Box, we listened to Kool DJ Red Alert and to Mr Magic’s Rap Attack, and swore we were the next big group. As I got older I’d just write songs, folk, rap, boleros, and blues.
My mother kept a small library of poetry and a lot of different books that fed my imagination. That, more than anything, kept me writing even when I became a businessman. It wasn’t until I decided to return to college and finish my degree that I realized how much writing really meant to me. My MFA experience was transformational. But it all started with those comics, books, and music.
Q: How would you describe your writing style? (Use a metaphor, simile, analogy or other literary device to do so)
Oh man, that’s tough. I’d say I’m a sancocho, (but then I read Jennifer Maritza McCauley said the same thing!!!) of provisions from the Harlem Renaissance, the Spanish Poets of 1929, the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyorican School, and the Modernists. Just to name a few.
I’m trying to convey nakedness of emoion, intent, and experience. As my brother from another mother, Brett Haymaker, once said to me, “…are you writing brutally honest Garcia poems?”
Q: How does your identity shape or influence your work, writing process, or writing life?
Who I am is at the center of everything I write. The history of this world proves that the power structure has traditionally hated everything I am. That means everyday I go out into the world and everything I do is an act of survival and defiance, a political act. My identity is my major metaphor.
I am a husband, a father, and a son. I have a great responsibility to that part of myself and everything I write, everything I explore in my writing is urgently tied to that.
Q: Can you tell us about a time you think your identity (Afro-Latinidad/Afro-Caribbeanness) helped or hindered your writing or writing career?
It’s helped me because organizations like the Dodge Poetry Foundation’s Poetry in the Schools program have given me the opportunity to share my poetry and my experiences with African American, Afro-Latinx, and Latinx youth. There are good people doing good work and I get to be a part of that because I’ve had some success writing about who I am. I also teach English at a community college and I share a lot of similar experiences with my students. It is an honor to give back to them.
Where it hinders me is in the publishing opportunities and high visibility gigs I don’t get. We know that there’s only room at the top for one or two of us “other” folks on that stage. Despite all the publications, awards, and fellowships people of color and LGBTQX have accomplished recently, cis white men still dominate publishing. So, there’s that. Lol.
Q: Tell me about your (new book/current project):
My new book, black / Maybe, out now by Willow Books, explores Afro-Latinx identity. I’m cataloguing the catalogues that race and racial systems create within our communities of color, and within the idea of whiteness. Our community, the Latinx community, has some serious reckoning to do with racialism and racism. Many of the poems push that reckoning. The book also looks at the similarity of experience across the African diaspora. All of this, through the lens of my experience as a son of Dominican immigrants, culture, and diaspora.
Q: What else are you working on or what future projects do you have in mind?
I’m working to complete the first draft of a novel. I have two manuscripts making the rounds; an essay collection and a short story collection.
Q: What have been some of the highlights/defining moments of your writing/performing career?
Reading at the Nuyorican Poets Café was a major highlight, so was reading at the Dodge Poetry Festival. Also, going back to my MFA program and reading from my first book felt pretty amazing.
I have to say though, that publishing another poets first collection is an amazing feeling. Being there every step of the way as they release their manuscript into the world is a real privilege.
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences and/or mentors?
I’m inspired by poets, writers, and artists that pursue their art even though they have a spouse and kids at home, and by the ones with no spouse and kids at home, by the ones pursuing their art even though the 9-5 is the 9-5, and by the ones finally giving themselves the gift of pursuing that passion Now after many years of not being able to do it. And by the ones persevering against anxiety and trauma to do this art. There’s not a whole lot of fame for us, but we’re writing for our lives so…
Always in my heart, body, and soul is the poetry and prose of Willie Perdomo, Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka, Aracelis Girmay, Pat Rosal, Ross Gay, Anne Marie Macari, Khaled Mattawa, Randall Horton, Marwa Helal, Junot Diaz and so many others. The list is ridiculously long.
Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give new writers/performers?
My advice to new writers is play, fail, read, write, take risks, make community, give more than you take, and repeat. Keep that beginner’s mind, that sense of wonder.
Q: Who/what are you reading now?
I’m a bad person to ask this question because I’m always juggling a bunch of different books. They’re scattered all over the house dogeared at different stages of completion.
Neruda: The Poet’s Calling by Mark Eisner, Chronicles of a Liquid Society by Umberto Eco, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar and translated by Sholeh Wolpe. And I have so many books on deck.
Q: What’s your favorite platano dish/recipe?
Muchacha!! Platano verde herbido—with onions, scrambled eggs, salchichon, and fried cheese.
Fun Fact 1: I love to garden! I grow grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, and I make a mean tabbouleh!
Fun Fact 2: I’m a fiend for Lemonhead candy. Bruh, it’s a terrible addiction, but they taste so good!
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