Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?
T. Cole: I started writing poems and stories when I was in elementary school. As a gay kid going to school in rural Oklahoma in the 1980s (before the internet, with no cable tv) I depended on the kindness of my English teachers to nurture my curiosity and encourage my creative work. Had it not been for them, I’m not sure what I would have done…or what would have become of me.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
T. Cole: I always sort of self-identified as a writer, but in college I was a double major in English and in studio art. When I graduated I had a senior show that was equal parts reading and art show. When it came time to apply to graduate schools I had to decide what I was going to focus on – either try and be a visual artist, which was really more of a hobby, or try and be a writer in earnest. I ended up applying to MFA programs in creative writing. When I was accepted into a poetry program in Wichita, Kansas, the choice was kind of made for me. There was no turning back after that.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
T. Cole: I’ve been lucky to have several mentors and advisors throughout my career. In grad school my thesis director was Albert Goldbarth, an incredible poet and teacher who remains a good friend to this day. After I moved to NYC, I was helped tremendously by Edmund White (who passed along my poems to Joyce Carol Oates) and by Bret Easton Ellis, who passed along my poetry manuscript to Soft Skull Press. As a journalist, I had a variety of incredible editors who took a chance on me (I’ve never actually taken a journalism class) and encouraged me to keep pitching pieces and to always aim higher.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
T. Cole: I grew up in Hydro, Oklahoma — a small farm town in the Southwestern part of the state. As much as my early life and teen years were spent obsessing about getting as far away as possible, it’s not lost on me that the bulk of my creative work has been (and continues to be) about the place and the people where I grew up. I’ve been incredibly lucky that my work as a journalist has allowed me to travel all over the world (something that has changed my perspective on the world very deeply), but I still feel compelled to write about Oklahoma more than any other place in the world.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
T.Cole: My poetry practice is the most meaningful to me, but I’d say that my work as a teacher – the poetry workshop I teach in NYC, in particular – is arguably the most meaningful work that I do. It’s also the most inspiring work that I do and something that keeps me engaged with the what it means to write and react to poetry.
Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?
T. Cole; I’m a record collector and a knitter, but I also continue to make visual art. I need things to keep my hands busy and occupy my mind with something meditative. Knitting also keeps my hands occupied, which keeps me from being on my phone all the time.
Q7:What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
T. Cole: This is a tricky question. As a lifelong music lover (and someone who wrote about music for much of my career), it’s almost impossible to answer. I own hundreds of records across all genres and I could never narrow it down to just one thing. However, I often come back to this clip of Nina Simone performing “Feelings” at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I sometimes show this to my students as an example of an artist taking on something considered culturally cheesy and elevating to the realm of high art.
Q8: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?
T. Cole: I currently work for T Brand at The New York Times and serve as the Deputy Editor for Departures, so that work – writing about travel, arts, and culture – absorbs most of my time. However, I have a poetry manuscript that is recently finished and I’m planning on publishing a chapbook of new work in early 2023.
Q9: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?
I worked as a bartender in a variety of NYC dive bars for the better part of 20 years while also freelance writing for a variety of magazines. In some ways, being a bartender was as much of a formative education as getting my MFA. I learned so much about people — both good and bad.
T. COLE RACHEL is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Brooklyn.