Q: How and when did you find out that your book was being published?
Gosh, that was back in the 1970s. I really don’t remember.
Q: What was it like seeing your book in print for the first time?
Exciting. I really liked the cover design. It was a sketch of a migrant worker. I didn’t know the artist, so seeing his work was a wonderful surprise.
Q: What kind of poet/fiction writer do you see yourself as? Is there a particular Subject matter you find yourself revisiting often?
I’m a literary activist but I also define myself as an African American writer. This is important because I have a strong desire to embrace African American culture and traditions. I want my work to be linked to Hughes, Cullen, Wright et al.
Q: When did you first realize that you were a writer? Can you pinpoint a specific time in your life, or did you always know that you wanted to write?
I feel I became a writer during my second year of college. I started writing in Cook Hall dormitory on the campus of Howard University.
Q: Can you discuss your writing practice? Are there particular places or times of day that you find most conducive to writing?
No, I have no set rituals. I try to find the time I need by keeping to a tight schedule.
Q: What is it about your writing style that makes you unique?
I’ll let my critics answer this question. Two scholars doing research on my writing are Dr.Joyce Joyce and Dr. Julia Galbus.
Q: What do you think the WWPH has done for the Washington literary scene?
Many writers in the DC area would not have publications if it wasn’t for WWPH. The company also created a sense of community between writers living in the area.
Q: How involved are you in the DC literary scene now?
I serve on the board of The Writer’s Center and I also edit Poet Lore magazine. I am an arts commissioner for the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities. My term will expire next year. I try to be supportive of younger writers living in Washington.
Q: What people have most inspired your work? Why?
A number of people have been inspirational to me. They include the following writers: June Jordan, Ai, Ahmos Zu-Bolton, Stephen Henderson, Sterling A. Brown and friends Beverly Hunt, Wendy Rieger, Grace A. Ali, and Naomi Ayala. The work and lives of these people provide me with the strength to continue to create.
Q: What is your favorite book? Why?
My favorite book is In Search of Color Everywhere that I edited back in 1994. This anthology of African American poetry was the type of book I didn’t have during my childhood. I hope it has special meanings for those who have it in their personal collections.
Q: Who are your favorite authors and why?
I like June Jordan and James Baldwin. I love how they use language. Both might be considered writers of witness. They are my favorite writers because they provided me with a model of how to live.
Q: What is the best writing advice you ever received and from who?
I guess the best advice came from my friend Liam Rector who runs the Bennington Writing Seminars. I remember him telling me that at Bennington the goal was not to make people into writers but instead men and women of letters. We were standing by the window in Tishman Hall and I never forgot this comment. It surprised me since I had been teaching at Bennington for two years trying to encourage students to write. I suddenly realized there was more to do.
Q: What is the strangest job you ever had?
Being the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. I’ve been in this job since 1974. Strange?
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write, where would you go? Why?
It would have to be Norway. I love the land and the people. I’m also heading back there in a few weeks.
Q: What is your favorite DC: restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore?
Andy Shallal’s Busboys and Poets (located at 14th and V Street, NW).