The FPP Interview: Marc McKee

FPP spoke with poet Marc McKee about the power of listening, the “money that goes into crafting a culture of victimization and criminalization”, and what his skateboarding youth in a small East Texas town taught him about community–plus so much more. Marc McKee will be reading on February 3rd at Shrine NYC.

mckee_author2-1Tell us about your earliest sense of community. How has the relationship fared over time?  

RIGHT. What a great question. I’ve never really thought about it in these terms; actually, this particular question about community has never been posed to me. I grew up in a very small town in East Texas, and still and yet I did not think of myself as part of that community, most likely because I belonged to a religion that made itself distinct from the predominantly Protestant religions of the region. It seems like I would have formed my first senses of community around that religion, since it created a stark contrast between me and the other folk in my age group, but I think the first real sense of community I had developed out of being a skater. In a football crazy, small Texas town, to voluntarily immerse yourself in what was then a fringe subculture meant that community as I came to know it was at least in part a choice, and entailed a certain amount of difficulty. Something about that difficulty and the choice to embrace it, and to be loyal to and protective of other people who had made the same choice, means that my ongoing ideas about community are a necessarily intriguing and complex networks of relations that are always somehow about how we negotiate who we feel we authentically are, what we decide to do and how we decide to act based on that realization, and the struggle to embrace and support people who feel the same pulls, often for entirely different reasons.

As time goes on, I appreciate my blood kin more and more, but I’m also ever more astonished by the families we make in the world and the lengths we go to when it is important to cultivate those families, those made communities. At this point, it’s almost all aspiration, especially in the wake of the first 14 years of this century, to conceive and seek community. Our challenge is to embrace and internalize notions of family, kinship, and community that gentle the social we find us in now, which seems to be insanely irradiated with rabid and reactionary xenophobias. As a skater, I was trained to embrace my clique and reject or ridicule others, but I hope that as I’ve grown the fuck up, I realize more and more that the experience of being in a small somewhat maligned group (which I felt as a teenager, though time and relative maturity has granted me a clearer perspective) is supposed to be instructive and to invite you to NOT replicate those kinds of malignant behaviors. More and more it seems clear that our ongoing project needs to be centered on preserving and protecting a great multiplicity of communities so long as they serve each other in the greater fabric of a nation far too large to entertain any one narrow set of quasi-unifying beliefs. Talk, talk, talk: can we just all talk to each other?

When do you feel most “we”?  When are you most troubled by “we”?  

Most “we”? I feel like all these questions are for me, specifically, which sometimes makes them hard to answer. I suppose I feel most “we” when I’m helping in some way. I teach. I’ve taught creative writing, literature, film, and composition for essentially the last 15 years of my life. I feel the most “we” professionally/daytime when I’ve said something that students that now are about half my age feel as something that turns a corner or hits an exit ramp in their brain. Nighttime “we” feels are different; I like to be out at night when there’s time enough and I continue to nurse an idea that in the spaces that night allows for we can sometimes be parts of conversations that even if they start in mundane places can graduate into revelatory and soothing recognitions of relation.  I don’t like the word “relatable” because I think it’s a cop-out, but I do love the word “relations,” because it implies an actual responsibility—“relatable” only means that you recognize someone else’s experience and you can think of yourself also having experiences. “Relations” to me implies a bond that further suggests responsibility.

I feel most “we” when there is a conversation, when it moves from being led to being an organic trade, a carousel of shared ideas and narratives like gifts whose energies achieve a kind of critical mass that feels more like creating than reciting ideas and positions. To paraphrase what Frank O’Hara says in “Personism: A Manifesto,” once you’ve gotten past the trappings of doing something and exist in the creative action of doing it, that is when refreshment arrives. So when I’m talking to friends, and we hit the point where we’ve left ego-affirming small talk behind and are into some authentically searching and creative conversation, I feel like I’m in the real energy of the “we” because I feel like we are starting to get somewhere, and it’s not just me talking to hear myself talk.

When I feel least “we” or most troubled by the “we”? I’m pretty sure that my gravest discomfort and shame at the “we” comes when I have to recognize being part of a larger community or group that is responsible en masse for the oppression, repression, or violent deconstruction of an Other “we.”

You often employ the first person plural voice in your poems.  Tell us about this desire, and what it has meant for your work. 

When I first started writing poems, I wrote in all lower-case: it was about 60-40 or 70-30 “it looks cool-it is a meaningful statement about what parts of language should be emphasized or important.” I always lower-cased the “I” of those first elementary and terrible efforts. I was disabused pretty quickly of that aesthetic, but I retained a instinctive, intuitive resistance to the “I” as a proper representation of the poet, or even of just the persona of the speaker. I think other poets do the “I” quite well, and winningly, and create poems that are not just absolutely earned but transcendently marvelous, but I’ve never trusted my own “I” unless it’s connected to a “you” or a “we.” Often, the speaker of my poems will move between the first, second, and first plural positions, and it will often be the result of a poem starting in a smallish, local place and aspiring to end up in a much bigger, fiercely inclusive place. Noticing this in my work has led me to embrace it and what I hope are the intuitive impulses behind it, which are to be eager to connect to or create communities, but also to indulge in pronouncements that are easier to contend with in the plural. For example: if I say “I,” you might be more apt to take my word for things just as you might comfort yourself by reminding yourself that it’s just one human’s perspective—after all, we exist in a culture which fetishizes to some degree people relaying their experiences. If on the other hand, I’m telling you how we feel, how we respond to tragedy, how we experience go-carts, then you may be more likely to be alert to your compulsion to agree AND your compulsion to disagree. For me that makes the experience of the poem richer: even if you think it’s rubbish for me to say “we,” you’ve got to have a reason, and that reason usually entails an attempt at empathy and a rejection (or acceptance) of the presumption of the first person plural. To elaborate on what this has meant for my work would be a nearly endless task—I’ll be doing right by my aesthetic desire if I just manage to keep exploring and evolving my relationship to these forms of expression and address. 

Do you find there is a particular place that is recurring shadow, or soil, for your poems?  

I feel like place most often in my work , is a negotiation between where I am physically and where I’ve been. The poems in What Apocalypse?, the chapbook that was my first collection, is suffused for me with the experience of living in Tucson, but also of having just left Houston. The poems in my first full-length book from Black Lawrence, Fuse, were written in the wake of moving from Bloomington (where I was first becoming a writer) and Houston, where I did my MFA. Bloomington left its mark, and Houston was such a giant experience that it couldn’t help but bleed through the poems. Bewilderness (also from Black Lawrence) was written in Houston and Tucson, with another round of places making themselves felt in my writing. Over all, though, I don’t think of there as being a particular place. My poems come from my contemporary local, and seek to fly off to wherever else I might want to go, as long as I can get a bunch of y’all to come with me.

Your writings reveal you to be a passionate teller, as well as questioner, of truth.   What has the last year been like for you and your work, especially living in Missouri in the wake of the Mike Brown killing?  

First of all, it’s an almost unreal compliment to assessed in this way: I am humbly grateful to be thought of  like this. The past year has been very challenging, in terms of starting any work.  Usually, I like the truths I can get at to be turned out of a lot a play in the language, a lot of puzzles I set up for myself, which I then labor to refine into adventurous conversation I try to buoy with jokes acutely turning into reminders of our short, sad, miraculous turns on this stage. The past year has been nauseatingly replete with reminders that my existential understanding is propped up by a complex of privileges that I need to interrogate and attempt to dismantle even as I’m trying to create new work. As a person, I need a lot of time to process difficult things before I feel I can talk about them with any degree of responsibility or wisdom. What that means essentially is that I need to just listen. As that happens, and when I can make poems, new knowledge and new understanding that I’ve internalized then necessarily seep into the work, and I hope give it deeper dimension, especially as it accesses images and information that current events yield. This past year has spurred incredibly important, responsible, and necessary social action. It has also shone a much brighter light on the fear and exhaustion of the black community around the country, and their entirely justifiable anger. My writing will be affected by this and it will convey this as I am able to: in the meantime, I can help by listening, I can help by asking people who are ready to act how I can help. It’s like a dire version of helping someone move house. Point me to the boxes, toward the unwieldy dresser, towards the piano or the perishables: there are things that I want to resist doing or saying from my particular position, but I can help load the truck.

Your new collection of poems is called Bewilderness.  How was it to write these poems?  

One interesting thing about all my collections is that the poems in them are quite old to me: most of the poems in, Fuse, were written between 1999 and 2003. The poems in Bewilderness were written between 2001 and 2006, which I think that explains a lot. The first person plural parts of Fuse were, perhaps, youthfully optimistic: expressions of a singular self trying to disabuse himself of the vanity and preciousness of the singular identity and trying to make poems that found and illuminated connections. My version of that is really inflected especially with poets of the New York School, and the poets that influenced them as well as the poets who expand on their kinds of experiments and methods.

Those methods didn’t really change with Bewilderness, but the time period is one I think we can all agree is not our finest hour as a nation. I wrote most of these poems in Houston and in Tucson and “finished” them in Columbia, MO, when I had experienced a number of different communities and friendships as well as lived through 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the Great Recession, and all of the other social, national, and international issues connected to those events as well as the ideological filters that redistributed truth in particular and intentional ways to confuse and mislead a public. So it’s a bit less optimistic in the practice of making connections, but still fiercely clinging to the hope that it’s within our power to recognize beauty and be spurred into making the world better. In fact, by the time I got to writing the title poem, I realized that I wanted it to become a vision of everything in the world disappearing, of everything being taken back and re-imagined before we returned a better world than the one we found. So, you know: joy and despair, fear and love, that’s what it was like.

Could the Bewilderness be described as a place?  And if so, do we seek to stay or escape? 

For me, writing it, Bewilderness, is where we were, and maybe still are. Yes, definitely, we are still in the Bewilderness. If you think of the amazing quantity of unreality we are implored to just accept, day to day, I think you have to come to the conclusion that we (and by “we” here I largely mean the West, and especially the United States) are in an incredibly advanced position from the standpoint of technologies, of gadgets and very nearly having much of the knowledge for the history of the world at our fingertips. The possibilities for making the world better are astonishing. Yet, if you’re paying attention, it’s hard not to see most people who occupy the most elite positions of power and wealth willfully ignoring the comparatively painless steps they could take to insure stronger, healthier, more equitable societies in their respective countries. Instead, a tremendous amount of money goes into crafting a culture of victimization or criminalization that divides and vexes the poor while mollifying the sense of entitlement for those not as affected by poverty. And don’t get me started about war. What I was hoping Bewilderness would do was reveal those insanities, to make them apparent and provoke resistance to them. So, for me, the Bewilderness is not necessarily something we seek to remain in or to flee from, but the unreality we must work to transform.

When it’s time to write, what brings you back to poetry?  

Poetry. And music. And more poetry. And sometimes film, or television. There’s something about other genres that I feel can be useful cross-pollinators with writing, especially if there are moves, from editing in movies to new takes on language in television and music and so on and so forth, that I can figure out ways to translate into poetry. Dean Young is right: poetry really can be about anything. 

What was your first knowledge of Harlem?  What does Harlem mean to you now?  

Given that I have an MFA in poetry and PhD and English and Creative Writing, my first thought is the towering, iconic writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, of course. My first knowledge of Harlem came from reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was a senior in high school. The way that Alex Haley and Malcolm detail his experience of that environment from the time that he was “Detroit Red” through his evolution into Malcolm X was so vivid and compelling—it was really my first introduction to New York as a concept that was overwhelming to someone from very small towns, a hub of artistic and political energy where, you know, things actually happened. This only continued with my education, though my knowledge of Harlem is incomplete, and though I have been to NYC once before, I have yet to go to Harlem. It’s one more realm I’m excited to come to know better and develop an even greater appreciation for.

What urgent advice would you offer emerging poets?  

Read everything, see everything, do everything you can do while first trying to do no harm, bring unlike things together, break like things down, discover what you need and what you can do without, take care, be reckless with the language, flee your darlings, return to your darlings, when all else fails cut 30%, and be kind, be kind, be kind.

Who are five artists everyone should know right now?  

The first thing to leap to my mind are actually all artists that we lost too soon, so I’m going to honor that impulse: Jason Molina (musician: Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., etc); Elliot Smith (subject of the forthcoming documentary Heaven Adores You), Frank Stanford (poet; The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, and other books), Jake Adam York (poet; Abide, Persons Unknown, and other books), and one of my gods, Tomaz Salamun (poet; There’s the Hand, There’s the Arid Chair; Book for My Brother; Feast; and other books).


The FPP Interview: Fouzia Najar

FPP will be screening the film “The Semiotics of Islam” at our next event on February 3rd! We spoke with filmmaker Fouzia Najar about the inspiration for the film and about her current work documenting post traumatic stress disorder in the chronically embattled Kashmir region.

Can you tell us a little bit about the provenance of “Semiotics of Islam” and what inspiration you took from the seminal feminist film “Semiotics of the Kitchen”?

The first time a friend lent me Martha Rosler’s piece, I watched it multiple times in a row. The kitchen is an oppressive space for the woman, and the actor pantomimes using everyday utensils in an increasingly aggressive way.  However, it’s very much a product of second-wave feminism and I wanted to update it to speak to a more diverse group of women.

NAJAR-Semiotics2Who do you imagine as your ideal audience for “Semiotics of Islam”?

The ideal audience will recognize themselves in the piece. Some might identify with the actor, the items displayed or the language that the news programs use. I believe all of these people can benefit from viewing in different ways.  Usually in viewing nonfiction films, the target audience learns something, but a Muslim viewer probably won’t receive any new information from viewing “Semiotics of Islam.” They are familiar with both the items and with the media’s agenda that affects Muslim lives daily. The value for them is in representation. An Islamophobe might recognize media that s/he consumes, but I did not intend to make the film for that person, despite the jokey subtitle “A Primer for Kuffar.”

How have audiences reacted to it so far?

Not many people have seen the film, but the feedback I’ve gotten is positive and affirming. The people who seem to enjoy it most have been Muslim women.

Your current project explores PTSD in South Asia. What has surprised you most in your filming so far?

I have learned that mental health professionals worldwide did not consider that people of color experiencing war or natural disasters in their countries were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rather, these experiences and their affects were just characteristic of Third World life. By the time doctors began diagnosing and treating PTSD in Kashmir in the mid-nineties, the region had already been brutally suppressed for many years, and occupied by the Indian government for almost half a century. I want to find out what happens to a society when one third of the population has PTSD.

What challenges do you see ahead in completing or screening this documentary?

It can be difficult to film in Kashmir because often the subject matter directly or indirectly criticizes the Indian government. The military presence is immense: there is one Indian soldier for every six Kashmiri civilians and their actions are often arbitrarily violent. The last time I was there, I used nonprofessional equipment, claimed to be a wedding videographer, mislabeled my media, and depleted my camera batteries so that no officials could view my footage. Visiting filmmakers, journalists and activists have to be careful, but Kashmiri people of all vocations have no recourse.

I hope to ultimately screen the documentary there, but Kashmir has no movie theaters. Even gatherings on religious occasions twice yearly are subject to curfew, so public assemblies (like an outdoor movie screening) are dangerous. Still, I hope to reach people with the film.

Can you tell us a bit about the difference between filmmaking in collaboration, as part of the television series, and making your own, independent projects?

In collaborative filmmaking, you have support; in a television series, you have money; and in independent projects, you have control.


Announcing the Tuesday, February 3rd Lineup at Shrine Harlem!

With great happiness and anticipation we present the Tuesday, Feb. 3 lineup for the First Person Plural Reading Series: poets Jason Koo, Marc McKee, and Montana Ray; prose artist Melody Nixon, and short film Semiotics of Islam by filmmaker Fouzia Najar.  We’ll wrap up the night with a special set by DJ Lady DM.  Join us at 7pm at Shrine, located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th in Harlem.  By subway: 2/3 to 135th, or B/C to 135th.  As always, admission is free.   Bar is cash only.

Koo-Tang Jason Koo is the author of two collections of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014) and Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award for the best Asian American book of 2009. He has published his poetry and prose in numerous journals, including the Yale Review, North American Review and Missouri Review, and won fellowships for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center and New York State Writers Institute. He is an assistant professor of English at Quinnipiac University and the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets.

unnamed-1Marc McKee received an MFA from the University of Houston and a PhD from the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he lives with his wife, Camellia Cosgray. His work has appeared in several journals, among them Barn Owl Review, Boston Review, Cimarron Review, Conduit, Crazyhorse, DIAGRAM, Forklift, Ohio, LIT, and Pleiades. He is the author of the chapbook What Apocalypse?, which won the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM 2008 Chapbook Contest, and two full-length collections, Fuse (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and Bewilderness (Black Lawrence Press, 2014).

NAJAR-Semiotics2Fouzia Najar is a Kashmiri-American filmmaker and multimedia storyteller from Buffalo, NY. She recently earned an M.F.A. in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and before that studied history and media at Carleton College. She has worked for award-winning production companies Kartemquin Films and Jigsaw Productions, and has works broadcasted on major networks, including The Weather Channel, ABC News and CNN. Fouzia most recently examined the death penalty in America for a nonfiction television series and is currently developing a documentary on post traumatic stress disorder in South Asia.

On Semiotics of Islam: Inspired by Martha Rosler’s second-wave feminist film “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” this experimental nonfiction short reveals the politics of (mis)representation in today’s media.

MelodyNixon_MAIN_400x386-1Melody Nixon is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in ConjunctionsCura Magazine, VIDA Web, Midnight Breakfast, No, Dear Magazine, Hoax Publication and The Appendix, among others. She is the Interviews Editor of The Common and Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of Apogee Journal. Melody is an activist for LGBTQ, women’s, and migrant rights. She has provided front line abortion clinic defense in the Bronx, taught an introductory “Artivism” class at Columbia University, and is currently a creative writing workshop leader for the New York Writers’ Coalition.

Maria pic2Montana Ray is a feminist writer, translator, scholar, and mom. She is the author of 4 artist books and chapbooks; her first full-length book of concrete poetry, (guns & butter), will be available from Argos Books this spring.



DJ Lady DMWith roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls Harlem home.

Introducing Our New Co-Curator Melody Nixon!

We wish to let our FPP community know that co-founder Wendy S. Walters has stepped down from her curating role.  We couldn’t be more grateful to Wendy for her vision and hard work. And we’re riveted by her new writing in the world: Wendy has a recently published book of poems Troy, Michigan and her collection of essays Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal will be out soon.  We encourage you to seek them out.
imgres-2And now, drumroll please…we are thrilled to announce that writer
Melody Nixon will join us as co-curator.  She has been a longtime friend of the series, and now brings her incredible talents to FPP in an official capacity!  Melody is a New Zealand-born writer living in Harlem.  She writes lyric essays, cultural reportage, poetry and short fiction, and teaches creative writing for the New York Writers’ Coalition. She is a founding editor of Apogee Journal, a literary journal dedicated to work by writers of color and work that explores issues of identity, race, and writing from the margins.  She is also the Interviews Editor for The Common.  We are very excited to work with her!

Come to Silvana for the Next FPP Reading on Tuesday, November 18th!

Our next reading is only two weeks away and we are so delighted by our lineup–they are a stunning group of writers and artists.  Join us downstairs at Silvana on Tuesday, November 18th at 7pm for Cameron Fraser, Asali Solomon, Marguerite Van Cook + James Romberger, and FPP co-founder Wendy S. Walters. Special DJ sets by Lady DM.  Silvana is located at 300 W. 116th St. near Frederick Douglass Blvd, across from Harlem Tavern, steps from the B/C at 116th. Admission is free.

More about our participants:

13941Asali Solomon was born and raised in West Philadelphia. Her first book, a collection of stories entitled Get Down, is set mostly in Philadelphia. Solomon’s work has been featured in Vibe, Essence, and the anthology Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Lips and Other Parts. She has a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley and an MFA form the Iowa’s Writer Workshop in fiction. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and is on the short list for this year’s Hurston/Wright Literary Award for best new fiction. The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award 2007 nominees include Asali Solomon for her collection of short stories, Get Down published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2006.  She also was named one of the National Book foundation’s ’5 Under 35 in 2007.

Romberger Van Cook selfportraitMarguerite Van Cook came to New York with her punk band The Innocents, after touring the UK with The Clash. She stayed and opened the seminal installation gallery Ground Zero with her partner James Romberger. Her own works as an artist and filmmaker have placed her in many museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Schwartz Art Collection at Harvard. Her other credits include poet (she was awarded the Van Rensselear Prize while at Columbia) and actor. Her current generational graphic memoir The Late Child and Other Animals with James Romberger (Fantagraphics) has been translated and published in France under the title L’Enfant inattendue. Her color work on the graphic memoir 7 Miles a Second, a collaborative project with James Romberger and the late David Wojnarowicz garnered her a nomination for an Eisner Award 2014 for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist. In 2006, Van Cook became the creative and managing director of the Howl! Arts Festival, which led in 2009 to the establishment of Howl HELP, a free emergency health & care service for downtown artists. She holds an M.A. in Modern European Studies from Columbia University and is currently completing a Ph.D in French at The Graduate Center CUNY. Website:

Romberger Van Cook selfportraitJames Romberger’s fine art pastel drawings are in many private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Romberger’s ecological comic Post York was published in 2012 by Uncivilized Books; it includes a flexi-disc by his son Crosby and it was nominated for an 2013 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. Romberger collaborated with Marguerite Van Cook and the late writer, artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz on the critically acclaimed graphic novel 7 Miles A Second, which was first published in 1996 by DC/Vertigo and then released in a revised, expanded edition in February 2013 by Fantagraphics Books. Romberger interviews authors for Publisher’s Weekly and he writes critically for The Comics Journal and the pop culture site Hooded Utilitarian. Website:

IMG_5055Wendy S. Walters is the author of a forthcoming book of essays, Multiply/Divide (Sarabande, 2015) and two books of poemsTroy, Michigan (Futurepoem, 2014) and Longer I Wait, More You Love Me (2009).  Walters was a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, and her work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Bookforum, FENCE, Harper’s Magazine, and elsewhere.  She has won a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a research fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution, a scholarship from Bread Loaf, and multiple fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.  She is a Contributing Editor at The Iowa Review and Associate Professor of creative writing and literature at the Eugene Lang College of The New School University in the city of New York.

CamPicCameron Fraser hails from Chesapeake Virginia. He studied sculpture at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and is currently a MFA candidate at Columbia University in the Sound Arts program. For years, he lived in Los Angeles working as a musician, sound designer and recording engineer. His focus is on making work that lives at the intersection of acoustic ecology, sound design and new music and he is interested in soundscapes as narrative spaces. Cameron left his heart in San Francisco, with his girlfriend and two cats.

-4-1With roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls NYC home.

Tonight! Join FPP for an Evening of Moving Image/Spoken Word as Part of Hyperplace Harlem

Hyperplace Promo-1Hyperplace Harlem, in partnership with First Person Plural, hosts the works of intergenerational and international artists tonight in Harlem.  The evening runs from 6pm-10pm at Maysles Cinema, 343 Lenox Ave (between 127th and 128th, near the 2/3 125th stop.  Suggested donation is $10.

The night aims to bring together discrete and diverse practices that complicate and expand notions of place as represented via a wide range of forms—from Machinima to documentary, animated historical footage to spoken word. These films, videos, written works & performances address themes such as relationships between public and private bodies, memory and loss, transferred history, and space as public domain.

Hyperplace Harlem is delighted to include IBM: A Self-portrait, a film by Albert and David Maysles as well as a Q&A with Albert Maysles and participating artists immediately following the screening. The film was selected and will be presented by New York-based artists João Enxuto & Erica Love as part of their project for Hyperplace. The artists chose this 1964 film to compare mid-20th Century corporate tech culture with the Silicone Valley ideology that is affecting a broader swath of the world today.

Participating artists will be present and they include: Albert and David Maysles, Carolyn Lazard, Dirk de Bruyn, Ephraim Asili, eteam, Jenny Gräf, João Enxuto & Erica Love, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Randall Horton, Stacy Parker Le Melle, and Zefrey Throwell.

More on Hyperplace Harlem: Our contemporary notions of place have shifted and expanded as technology and mobility touches the lives of local and global communities. Virtual environments, GPS signals, gentrification, psycho-geography, local ecology, and urban decay are some of the themes our artists traverse while navigating their relationships to place.Hyperplace Harlem will take place in and around Hamilton Heights and West Harlem October 4-6 2014 and will include exhibitions, performances, workshops, and public media art forums. For more information please visit:

The FPP Season Kickoff Blew Us Away!

What a privilege to have had Lacy M. Johnson, Kiese Laymon, and Tiphanie Yanique share the stage this past Monday for First Person Plural Harlem’s season opener.  It was a profound reading– not a word to be used lightly, and we don’t.

Lacy M. Johnson‘s latest book, The Other Side, recounts the harrowing experience of ljohnsonher kidnap and near murder at the hands of a former boyfriend.  Johnson read of the dreams that haunt her still– the expected nightmares of threats and violence, and the perhaps more disturbing dream of sitting down to a calm, comforting conversation with the man.  Through her children, Johnson showed us the lasting impact of the violence done to her.  “I want her to be a little afraid of me,” she writes of her daughter, a three-year-old as irrepressible as Johnson herself was as a child.  The traumatic event taught Johnson to retreat into herself, and in moving moment after moment, Johnson worries about how she closes the door on her children, forgetting how to open it again.

klaymonKiese Laymon decided to read an essay “from the heart,’ one he feels uncomfortable reading outside of his Mississippi birthplace, and we will be forever grateful that he did. “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” the titular essay of his recent collection, is a revelation about what it means to be a young black male in a country that is anything but post-racial.  Whereas wealthy/white youth have their foibles and serious crimes alike laughed off as growing pains, Laymon writes, “I was born on parole,” and “nineteen-year-old black boys cannot be perfect in America.” And while he writes of the ways his life might have and did go terribly sideways as a young man, he also finds deep empathy for, among others, his mother, wondering how he has failed to add love and comfort to her life. The essay was a wrenching tour de force.

Tiphanie Yanique read a section of her new novel, Land of Love and Drowning, which began with the musicality of poetry recounting the charmed life of an impossibly tyaniquecharismatic man from St. Thomas who joins the US Army in the time of Jim Crow.  We were spellbound as Yanique narrated a trip he and a few other “Islander” soldiers take to a restaurant near their New Orleans base.  The excursion nearly ends in tragedy as the realities of violent racism slowly– almost too slowly– sink in for the young men, unused to segregation and anticipating the respect the uniform should afford.  The beautiful, talented protagonist cannot believe the local men won’t listen to reason.  The whole of Shrine was leaning forward throughout, to see him safely through.

photo 2(1)Huge thanks to DJ Lady DM spinning us on home!  And thanks again to Lacy, Tiphanie, and Kiese for the work that your words do in the world.  We will not soon forget this reading!

Whole Lotta Love: the Next FPP Lineup Enjoys Critical Acclaim

It seems every time we blink there’s another rave review or fascinating new article out on Kiese Laymon, Lacy M. Johnson, and Tiphanie Yanique, our First Person Plural Lineup at 7pm on Tuesday, September 30th at Shrine in Harlem.

the other sideThe Wall Street Journal Online writes of Lacy M. Johnson’s “incandescent” memoir: it is “written with both fury and restraint. The reader feels pulled onto a fast train, in a compartment with a narrator telling an intimate and terrifying tale.” Kirkus Review calls The Other Side, “Ferociously beautiful and courageous, Johnson’s intimate story sheds light on the perpetuation of violence against women.” You can read a fantastic interview with Lacy at The Rumpus, which says, “Johnson’s memoir is an extraordinary document, and she herself holds an important place in a movement to stop violence against women.”


Long DivisionKiese Laymon published not one but two books in 2013. His novel Long Division was on the “Best of 2013″ lists at The Believer, Buzzfeed, Guernica, Salon, and many other publications.   Roxane Gay writes in the The Nation, “[Long Division] is the most exciting book I’ve read all year.  There’s nothing like it, both in terms of the scope of what the book tackles and the writing’s Afro Surrealist energy.”  Essays from his collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America have appeared in the Best American series, the Best of Net award, and the Atlantic‘s Best Essays of 2013. The Rumpus writes of the collection, “[I]n this very un-post-racial world, Laymon picks up where Baldwin left off, surviving and living to tell the tale….How does he kill himself and others? By fighting, by loving too much or not enough, by eating too much, by quitting, by writing or not writing, and by continuing to push forward despite opposition.

Land of Love and DrowningTiphanie Yanique follows up her award winning short story collection with the stunning debut novel, Land of Love and Drowning, about which Publisher’s Weekly writes, “Through the voices and lives of its native people, Yanique offers an affecting narrative of the Virgin Islands that pulses with life, vitality, and a haunting evocation of place.” Flavorwire calls the novel “sublime,” Huffingtonpost writes, “Yanique’s debut novel bursts with imagination and intoxicating atmosphere, and the deeply felt characters at its heart demand to be heard,” and TimeOut writes, “How rare to encounter a dauntless and complex novel that convincingly melds true history with magic, but Tiphanie Yanique’s debut—a rich seascape about family and legacy, beauty’s clout and the variable waves of race and class on the twentieth-century Caribbean islands—accomplishes just that.”

We feel unbelievably privileged to welcome these three authors to the same stage next Tuesday night.  These are the voices that will be shaping the conversation for years to come.  See you at Shrine at 7pm September 30th!

Join Us for a Night of Screenings and Readings at Hyperplace Harlem

Hyperplace PromoThe First Person Plural Reading Series is proud to partner with Hyperplace Harlem to co-host a night of screenings and readings at Maysles Cinema from 6pm-10pm on Monday October 6, 2014.  The evening will feature work by Albert and David Maysles, Carolyn LazardDirk de BruyneteamJenny GräfJoão Enxuto & Erica LoveLaTasha N. Nevada DiggsRandall Horton,Stacy Parker Le Melle, and Zefrey Throwell.  Maysles Cinema is located at 343 Lenox Blvd, between 127th and 128th.  Take the 2/3 to 125th.  Admission is free.

About Hyperplace Harlem

Our contemporary notions of place have shifted and expanded as technology and mobility touches the lives of local and global communities. Virtual environments, GPS signals, gentrification, psycho-geography, local ecology, and urban decay are some of the themes artists traverse while navigating their relationships with Place.

In this light, we are excited to present Hyperplace Harlem, a three-day festival, on October 4-6.

Hyperplace Harlem’s program will feature media and visual artists, readings, performances, workshops, and discussions. Hyperplace Harlem seeks to bring together artists and audiences from various backgrounds and to foster engagement, sparking new discoveries and conversations.

For more information, check out Hyperplace Harlem’s site here.

A New Season Begins: First Person Plural Premieres on Tuesday, September 30th

We are delighted to announce that the opening line-up of the third season of the First Person Plural Reading Series will feature authors Lacy M. JohnsonKiese Laymon, and Tiphanie Yanique and includes special DJ sets by Lady DM.  We are proud to showcase these artists, especially given the stellar new work they have gifted the world. Plan to join us at 7pm on Tuesday, September 30th at Shrine in Harlem, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell between 133rd and 134th.  We know this will be a night to remember.

About our participants

1653407_10152073317113692_1189887351_nLacy M. Johnson is a Houston-based artist, curator, teacher, activist and author of The Other Side (Tin House Books, 2014) and Trespasses: A Memoir (Iowa, 2012). She is co-creator of the location-based storytelling project [the invisible city], and her work has appeared in Dame Magazine, Tin House, Creative NonfictionPoets & Writers, Gulf Coast and elsewhere. She teaches interdisciplinary art at the University of Houston.


Kiese-Laymon-photoKiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of the novel, Long Division  and a collection of essays,  How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Long Division was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by a number of publications, including Buzzfeed, The Believer, Salon, Guernica, Mosaic Magazine, Chicago Tribune, The Morning News, MSNBC, Library Journal, Contemporary Literature, and the Crunk Feminist Collective. Both of Laymon’s books are finalists for the Mississippi Award for Arts and Letters in the fiction and nonfiction categories. Long Division is currently a finalist for Stanford’s Saroyan international writing award. Laymon has written essays and stories for numerous publications including Esquire, ESPN, Colorlines, NPR, Gawker, Truthout, Longman’s Hip Hop Reader, The Best American Non-required Reading, Guernica, Mythium and Politics and Culture. Laymon is currently at work on a new novel “And So On” and a memoir called 309: A Fat Black Memoir. He is an Associate Professor of English at Vassar College.


TiphAuthorPhoto-2Tiphanie Yanique is the author the novel Land of Love and Drowning, published this July 2014.  BookRiot has listed it as one of the best books of the summer. BookPage has listed her as one of the 14 Women to watch out for in 2014.  Her writing has won the 2011 BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Fiction, Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. She has been listed by the Boston Globe as one of the sixteen cultural figures to watch out for and by the National Book Foundation as one of the 5 Under 35. Her writing has been published in Best African American Fiction, The Wall Street Journal, American Short Fiction and other places.  Tiphanie is from the Virgin Islands and is a professor in the MFA program at the New School in New York City.


Podcast ladydm_useWith roots stemming from the legendary musical island of Jamaica in the Caribbean, Mackenzie Largie a.k.a. Lady DM describes herself as a ‘musical expat’, an apt description for her fearless take on crossing genres of dance-able music.  Lady DM’s story begins in 1995, in NYC as a host on FIT’s radio station, by day; and avid regular at parties like Theo Parrish’s SugarBabies by night. Two years later, she begins her ascent of the city’s DJ circuit proper, a regular at venues like the Limelight, Orchard Bar, and The Cooler. While based in Europe from 99’-10’, Lady DM regularly hosted radio shows in Zurich, and Berlin, while jetting around entertaining crowds at legendary parties like Amsterdam’s Mazzo Club, Zurich’s Lethargy festival, Milan’s Cox 18, Munich’s Muffathalle, and Berlin’s WMF. In Berlin, Lady DM also curated events, with Berlin’s then up-and-coming artists, including Peaches, Dixon, Jamie Lidell, & Gonzales.  She now calls NYC home.