FPP Interview: Camille Rankine

FPP spoke with poet and Incorrect Merciful Impulses author Camille Rankine about her relationship to New York City, the life, warmth, and character of Harlem, the exhaustion of existing as a Black person in the US, and how poetry can help “open up the world a little bit for each other.” See Rankine read on Tuesday, September 20th at the FPP Season Premiere at Shrine in Harlem, 7pm.

Camille Rankine Photo 3s

You’re from Portland, Oregon, but you live in Harlem now. How much of your time in NYC has been spent uptown? Can you talk about your relationship to this place? How has the neighborhood changed since you arrived?

I’ve lived uptown for all of my time in NYC, actually. First in Morningside Heights, when I was at Columbia University. Then Washington Heights. And I’ve been in Harlem for about seven years now. Living in Harlem when most of my writer peers are in Brooklyn feels a little like an act of defiance, but I love it here. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, and it feels like a community, which is different from a lot of Manhattan. It’s full of life and warmth and character. It is changing, just like any neighborhood in New York. There are new condos, new restaurants, and, I’ll just say it, a lot more white people. There’s a Whole Foods opening down the street from me next year, which feels very strange, and makes me worry that rents are about to shoot up. But I hope it’ll still feel like Harlem, even after it opens—just with more organic produce.

How has the place you live in entered and influenced your poetry?

I think it’s impossible for the place that I live not to influence my poetry. I don’t know if Harlem, specifically, has affected my work, but I know New York has. It’s been my landscape and my reality for a good part of my life, but one that I never feel entirely at home with, even if it is my home. That’s a little true for me wherever I go, I think, because my parents are immigrants, and I was raised in a Jamaican household. So that tension is on my mind a lot, and I think it appears in my work as well.

In your poem “Survival Guide for Animals Born in Captivity,” in response to the shooting of Mike Brown and the events of the summer of 2014, you write, “The trick is your body itself/ is a violence.” Can you talk about the ways that the body enters your work, particularly the politicized body, the Black body, and the female and intersectional body?

I wrote that poem in the summer of 2014, after deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, but I didn’t really write it in response to those events, exactly. I wrote it in response to the fact that deaths like theirs, and the fear that black men and women have of dying at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us—that’s the reality that black Americans have been living in for generations. And that summer, it seemed like the rest of America was just beginning to see that. Black people in America are raised to understand that their bodies will be interpreted as dangerous objects to be feared and mistrusted. And that we have to act accordingly, in order to keep ourselves safe. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and about what it means when your body communicates something you never intended. That’s something that’s been coming into my newer work.

How has your work been going in the wake of the 2016 shootings and ongoing police violence against Black and brown bodies? Are you finding that justice themes are again entering your work, or are you, like (past FPP reader) the poet Morgan Parker wrote in her Instagram feed this summer, “over staying woke,” given how ongoing and relentless the violence seems?

My entire writing life I’ve been writing in the wake of shootings and ongoing police violence against black and brown bodies. This is not new. So I suppose I find writing poetry the same as ever. I don’t know the context of Morgan’s comment on Instagram (though I do know her incredible poem “If You Are Over Staying Woke”), but I imagine what she meant is that she’s tired. And yeah, I’m tired, too. It can be exhausting to exist in a country whose systems of power want you servile, invisible, or dead.

What powers do poets possess to respond to insurgent moments of change in society? How can, and do, poets help the movement towards justice? And do you see this as part of your role as poet?

What I hope for poetry is that by writing it and by reading it we can open up the world a little bit for each other. Audre Lorde said, “We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit,” and maybe poetry can be a part of forming that habit. Maybe by reading each other’s words, we can become more real with one another. We can become more tender. That’s one step toward justice, I think.

Season Finale: First Person Plural Harlem Reading Tuesday, April 12!

We are thrilled to present the line up for the First Person Plural Harlem Reading Series on Tuesday, April 12th: writers Rosebud Ben-Oni, Amy Fusselman, and Chinelo Okparanta! Join us for this fabulous season finale 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.

rosebudben-oniBorn to a Mexican mother and a Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a graduate of the Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater in NYC. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review.

Amy FusselmanAmy Fusselman is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is the author of the nonfiction books The Pharmacist’s Mate, 8, and, most recently, Savage Park.  Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Rumpus, The Hairpin, and Word Riot.  She writes a semi-regular column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency entitled, “Family Practice: An Occasional Column by ‘Dr.’ Amy Fusselman.”  She was the writer/editor/illustrator of the international ‘zine, Bunnyrabbit, and the editor/contributor of the literary website, Surgery of Modern Warfare.

 

chinelookparantaChinelo Okparanta is the author of the novel, Under the Udala Trees, which has been widely praised in publications such as Essence, The Guardian, Lambda Literary, The New York TImes, and Vogue. Her short story collection, Happiness Like Water, was cited as an editors’ choice in the New York Times Book Review and listed among The Guardian’s Best African Fiction of 2013.  She is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and an O. Henry Prize.  Okparanta was also a finalist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, the 2013 Society of Midland Authors Award, and the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Literature.  She has been awarded residencies by the Jentel Foundation, the Hermitage Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, as well as Hedgebrook. Beginning in the fall of 2016, she will serve as Tenure-Track Assistant Professor of English & Creative Writing (Fiction) at Bucknell University where she has also been named Grange and Rogers Faculty Research Fellow.

 Join us 7pm Tuesday night, April 12th, at Shrine for our last reading of the season!

Next First Person Plural Reading: 7pm Monday, February 22nd at Shrine!

Come out on February 22, 7pm at Shrine in Harlem for an astoundingly great lineup!  We welcome poets Sarah Gambito and Amy King, multi-genre writer Hafizah Geter, and inventive sound and video artist Ashley Grier.  This reading is a special collaboration with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and features VIDA board members Amy King and Hafizah Geter.  We’re excited to link up with this crucial organization!  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.  Admission is free; bar is cash only.

sarahblackwhiteSarah Gambito is the author of the poetry collections Delivered (Persea Books) and Matadora (Alice James Books). She is Associate Professor of English / Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University and co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American writers.

 

 

 

 

HafizahGeterHafizah Geter is 2013 Blacksmith House Emerging Writer, recipient of a 2012 Amy Award from Poets & Writers, and a finalist in the Fifth Annual Narrative Magazine Poetry Prize.  Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in BOXCAR Poetry Review, RHINO, Drunken Boat, Columbia Poetry Review, New Delta Review, Memorious, Vinyl, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Hot Street, Pinwheel Journal, Linebreak, Narrative Magazine, Gulf Coast,  Blunderbuss, H.O.W.  Journal, and Boston Review. She was a 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship Finalist and a semi-finalist for the 2010 “Discovery” / Boston Review Contest. Hafizah also serves  on the board of VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, co-curates the reading series EMPIRE with Ryann Stevenson, is a Cave Canem fellow and a poetry editor at Phantom Books. She is on the Poetry Comittee for the Brooklyn Book Festival.

ashleygrierAshley Grier is a singer, sound artist, and composer from South Carolina. She employs a multidisciplinary approach to exploring identity, culture, and biography. Ashley has recorded and performed with many artists including Adam Rudolph, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Pharoahe Monch. She has performed in many theater pieces, including an original collaborative theater piece, “Unexpected Journeys,” directed by Caroline Jackson-Smith and choreographed by Dianne McIntyre. The piece premiered at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square with Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, “why i had to dance.”  She is a Laundromat Project Create Change Fellow Alum, and holds a B.M. from Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Vocal Performance. She is currently an MFA candidate in Columbia University’s Sound Arts program.

AmyKing2Amy King’s forthcoming book, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. Her book, Safe, was one of the Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011, and it was reviewed, among others, by the Poetry Foundation and the Colorado Review.  I Want to Make You Safe was published by Litmus Press, 2011. Amy King is also the author of  Slaves to do These ThingsI’m the Man Who Loves You, and Antidotes for an Alibi, all from Blazevox Books, as well as The People Instruments (Pavement Saw Press) and Kiss Me With the Mouth of Your Country (Dusie Press).  King joins the ranks of Ann Patchett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, Barbara Bush, and Pearl Buck as the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the WNBA Award (Women’s National Book Association).  She was also honored by The Feminist Press as one of the “40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism” awardees, and she received the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.  King serves on the executive board of VIDA: Woman in Literary Arts.

Join us and these incredible readers Monday February 22, 7pm, at Shrine!

Upcoming First Person Plural, Harlem Reading: November 10!

Come out on November 10th, 7pm at Shrine in Harlem for an astoundingly great lineup!  We will welcome poet and visual artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Pulitzer Prize winning author Margo Jefferson, and fiction writers Victor LaValle and Emily Raboteau. This reading is not to be missed! 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.  Admission is $5; bar is cash only.

IMG_5195Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. She is the author of Miracle ArrhythmiaThe Requited Distance, and Mule & Pear, which was selected for the 2012 Inaugural Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Griffiths’ most recent book, Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books), was published in 2015. The recipient of numerous fellowships, Griffiths’ literary and visual work has appeared widely including The New York Times, Writer’s Chronicle, American Poetry Review, American Poet, Transition, Callaloo, Guernica, and many others. She recently completed her first extensive video project, P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), an intimate series of micro-interviews, which gathers over 100 contemporary poets in conversation, and is featured online at the Academy of American Poets. Currently, Griffiths teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Margo Jefferson Headshot_Credit Michael LionstarThe winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, Margo Jefferson was for years a theater and book critic for Newsweek and The New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, VogueNew York magazine, and The New Republic. She is the author of On Michael Jackson and, most recently, Negroland (Pantheon 2015).  She is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts.

Victor LaValle author photo1Victor LaValle is the author of one story collection and three novels. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, and the Key to Southeast Queens. He teaches creative writing in Columbia University’s MFA program.

 

 

ER 2-2Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor’s Daughter (Henry Holt) and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion (Grove/Atlantic), winner of a 2014 American Book Award.  Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short StoriesThe New York Times, Tin House, McSweeney’s, The Guardian, Guernica, VQR, The Believer, and elsewhere.  Honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony.  An avid world traveler, Raboteau resides in Washington Heights with her husband, Victor LaValle, and their two children.
Join us and these incredible readers November 10th, 7pm, at Shrine!