with Roy Christopher:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
I’ve been writing poetry since before I could write. I would shout them out in alliterative, repetitive, rhyming couplets, and my mom would take dictation. Once I started writing, I wrote poems, short stories, comic books, fake newspapers.
In high school, I took to making zines publicly and writing poems privately. Everyone I looked up to was a poet of some fashion. From the smart sense of Danny Elfman and David Byrne to the gothic verse of Robert Smith and Andrew Eldritch, from the street knowledge of Ice-T and KRS-One to the hardcore chants of Kevin Seconds and Ian MacKaye, poetry was the process, the worded frame for the world. So, I started writing my own again, stilted little stanzas of teen longing and angst, mostly designed to make me seem deep to my friends and interesting to girls.
The Master Cluster also deserves a special mention here. In a fundamental, foundational way, those three guys—Andy Jenkins, Spike Jonze, and Mark Lewman—are three of the reasons I do what I do. They used to ride BMX bicycles, skateboard, and run magazines and zines back when I did a few of those things and aspired to do the others. Their influence and inspiration are difficult to measure.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Roy: My partner, Lily Brewer, my peers, and my friends… Music is also still high on the list, but I couldn’t possibly name everyone. With my Follow for Now interview anthologies, I’ve tried to give back to many of my current influences. Volume 2 comes out soon from punctum books.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Roy: It was a lot of little moments. I grew up with an artist mom, so I just always thought that’s what I’d be. Horrible art teachers all through school and college finally steered me elsewhere. BMX, skateboarding, and zine-making were the next turns. It’s difficult to overstate their importance in my development.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
I never did well on writing assignments in school. In spite of my placement in advanced classes, I scored poorly throughout high school on writing-related projects. I made C’s in both English 101 and 102 in college, but in my second-to-last semester of undergrad, one of my instructors complimented my writing. We had done several in-class essays in her Abnormal Psychology class, and one day she pulled me aside and told me what a good writer I was. This came as a surprise, given my previous track record and the fact that I’d been an Art major for the first three years of college. Regardless, it stuck with me. I took a class on writing for social science research the next semester, and though I barely made a B, I felt more at home researching and writing than I ever had trying to do traditional art. I give the credit for my newfound confidence to my Abnormal Psychology teacher.
The list of people that have helped me since would be incomplete no matter how hard I try. I have a network of mentors that I regularly bother for feedback on my work. They are the models, the people whose work I aspire to.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Roy: I grew up in the Southeast United States: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Florida. We moved every 2 years. The day after my last final in undergrad, I moved to Seattle. I’ve since lived in San Francisco, San Diego (twice), Seattle 3 more times, Athens, Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, and now I live in Savannah. All of these places show up in my writing in one way or another.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Roy: The one that’s available is Dead Precedents: How Hip-Hop Defines the Future (Repeater Books, 2019). I put everything into that project. But my book-in-progress The Medium Picture is my baby. It’s a genre-crossing Gen-X music fan’s media-memoir, if anyone is interested.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Roy: Reading and riding my bikes are probably the first two things I go for. Rock climbing is a great head-clearing activity. Like anyone else, I watch a lot of movies and TV shows. I also find writing to be relaxing. I’m always working on several projects at once, so if I get stuck on one, I just switch to another.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
Roy: I am a sucker for two things: extremely economical or aphoristic lines and multiple multisyllable rhymes.
For the first, I always use this couplet by Talib Qweli from Black Star’s “Respiration” as an example:
Killers born naturally like Mickey and Mallory
Not knowing their ways’ll get you capped like an NBA salary
I love lines that pop but pile on the references, lines that seem simple until you peel their layers. I tried to do something similar with my tagline, “I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.”
For the second, there’s the obvious, Inspectah Deck’s opening verse on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph,” or AZ’s first verse on “Never Change” off his 2005 record A.W.O.L.:
You know the happenings, homies just yappin’ and
Hand shaking, laughing, and exchangin’ all they math again
You usually lose touch when you travelin’
A few dudes bruised up in the battlin’
Parked on Madison across from the Radisson
We talked about the tattlin’ some did in Maryland
Plus discussed old homicides unravelin’
I asked, was he dabblin’, he laughed and said he managin’
His Carti frames was as clear as a camera lens
He hardly changed, I was near in comparison…
He just goes on and on…
And of course, vivid, solid storytelling always wins. Ghostface Killah’s verse on Wu-Tang’s “Impossible” makes me cry every time I hear it. He puts you right there.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Abandoned Accounts, my first collection of poetry, came out on July 30th and Fender the Fall, my first published work of fiction, came out on August 11th from Alien Buddha Press.
Up next are Boogie Down Predictions: Hip-Hop, Time, and Afrofuturism, an edited collection for Strange Attractor Press, Follow for Now, Vol. 2: More Interviews with Friends and Heroes for punctum books, and Post-Self: Journeys Beyond the Human Body for Repeater Books. I also have a short story called “Hayseed, Inc.” in the forthcoming Cinnabar Moth anthology, A Cold Christmas and the Darkest of Winters, “Dutch” for an as-yet-unnamed anthology from Malarkey Books, and a new zine project called “Discontents.” Stay up!
Roy Christopher (he/him)
Follow for Now (interview anthology): http://www.followfornow.com
Dead Precedents: How Hip-Hop Defines the Future: https://roychristopher.com/dead-precedents.html
Abandoned Accounts (poems): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B8B4HQJ/
Fender the Fall (sci-fi novelette): https://roychristopher.com/fender-the-fall.html
Follow for Now, Vol. 2 (interview anthology): https://punctumbooks.com/titles/follow-for-now-vol-2-more-interviews-with-friends-and-heroes/
Boogie Down Predictions: Hip-Hop, Time, and Afrofuturism (edited collection): https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/boogie-down-predictions
Post-Self: Journeys Beyond the Human Body: https://roychristopher.com/post-self.html