By Ian MacAllen on Monday, November 17th, 2014 at 9:05 am
Thomas Page McBee, a long time columnist at The Rumpus, read from his memoir Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man. He was joined at WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn by poet and Buzzfeed editor Saeed Jones, author of the collection Prelude to Bruise.
Jones read from his collection first. The poems share a singular trajectory about the coming of age of a southern, queer, black boy, though each poem stands alone. And though there are similarities to Jones’s own life and coming of age story, his speaker is inspired by, but is distinctly not him. “If we don’t engage our past, we ourselves become oppressive,” he said.
McBee read both from his memoir and from the Rumpus, Column #30: Tenderness.
Both authors have a strong internet presence.They even joke that they live on the internet. McBee sees the internet as a great place to explore narrative frameworks that might have more difficulty in traditional marketplaces. The internet liberates writers of the demands of the economics of publishing giving space to stories that might not seem commercially viable. “There’s diversity of narratives that really need to be exposed to the world,” McBee says.
Jones says he started building his Twitter presence in graduate school after taking advice from Tayari Jones, a professor of creative writing at Rutgers-Newark. But he doesn’t see Twitter as essential unless its something a writer actually enjoys. “I don’t think it can help you sell your book,” Jones says. He adds that writers who join the Twitter-sphere or other social media environments simply because their agents told them to feels artificial.
“You have to be genuine,” Jones says, adding that he loves Twitter.
The internet has certainly helped provide access to under-represented writing though, and that’s the power in it for McBee and Jones. “Poetry is always under-represented,” Jones adds.
The internet also offers greater opportunity for alternative voices. “I’m so tired of reading things by cis-gendered white men,” Jones says. He wants writing to surprise him. He doesn’t see value in a middle-age white man writing for the Washington Post offering an opinion on rape culture, for instance.
Both writers have deeply exposed themselves and their identities in way that leaves them vulnerable. For Jones, that meant drawing on his past, even if he fictionalized it. For McBee, he is writing memoir. Though his internet essays have always been very open, the book felt even more so. “I write for the internet all the time in a way that’s very transparently me,” he says, yet isn’t worried about the reader’s perception on the internet. When writing the book though, he felt as if it was more intimate. “I knew I would hesitate so I didn’t think about it.”
Jones says he’s learned that whether or not he’s writing autobiography, people will seek it out. And the opposite is true too–even when people write non-fiction, readers are looking for the faults that are not true. Jones was looking to create a mythology for black, queer, southern boys. “For me its a fun house I’ve built,” he says describing his collection. “These poems, these landscapes were my secret world.” Now that he has shared them, he finds there is a depression that follows the release of the first book.
“You never get to write a first book again,” he says. He’s since started working on a memoir, a project he describes as different in nature.
McBee is working on a new book as well, this one about being a man in the world. The challenge he sees in confessional writing is that he’s not just a character, but rather actually experiencing the events he is writing about. “My life and my writing aren’t separate.” Ultimately he says his goal is to get people to feel the same things he does through his writing describing it like an echo.
Thomas Page McBee and Saeed Jones
Thursday, November 14, 2014
WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn
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