A few months ago, I pitched an author Q&A to a well-known publication that had been asking me to send them some literary content. In March of 2019, they responded that they were passing on the idea because they prefer to cover upcoming or recent books. The debut collection of poetry and winner of the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, “Refuse” was published in September of 2018. It had been a whole six months. SIX MONTHS YA’LL.
Their response blew my mind. It’s not that I thought my idea was so worthy. Let’s be honest, there is nothing ground-breaking about a Q&A, no matter how much time and thought I put into the questions. It was the idea that six months after something had been published, it was considered old news. As a writer who understands how much goes into every essay, poem, caption, newsletter, I am still having a hard time swallowing that six months makes a book “not recent enough.”
The idea that we need to keep up with all the new things isn’t just happening in the literary world. Social media and current culture practices will have us believe that new is always better. The updates, notifications, and associated pings come so fast, we barely have time to process what we just read. (I’m also high-key convinced that most people only read the titles of articles before sharing and discussing, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
Reader, I’d like to thank you for getting to this point without clicking elsewhere and for understanding the importance of counter-culture work. We are here to celebrate the one year publishing anniversary of Julian Randall’s “Refuse” with the aforementioned Q&A. Here we go:
There is a raw vulnerability behind Chicago poet Julian Randall’s poems that both cracked me open and reminded me that who I am is not for anyone else to define. Often writing from the in-between spaces, Randall grapples with the reality of being biracial and bisexual with skilled craftsmanship and creative structure and form. It is with good reason that acclaimed poet Danez Smith announces Randall as “a new and necessary voice in black poetics.”
Randall’s work is actively rooted against the historical push to erasure the narratives of underrepresented communities. He believes remembering is a form of resistance and sues the personal and the political to engrave a body of work that will not be forgotten.
- Your debut collection of poetry, Refuse, won the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was published in the Fall of 2018. Since then, you’ve had to juggle being a full-time student, a teacher, a curator and being on tour. Has this taken a toll on your mental wellness, or are you always fueled to be doing what you love? How do you self-care? What brings you joy?
A little bit of both honestly, traveling is always a bit of an anxiety heavy experience for me (though a ton less so thanks to Eloisa who does all my booking at Costura Creative and is genuinely the best) but also I couldn’t possibly be luckier than to be hopping all over the place doing what I love to do which is write and read and talk to people about great books. I’d never toured at this scale before so it was def a physical toll and along the way, I was supposed to be writing a whole new thesis but I feel stronger knowing now that I’m capable of doing all of that (though I’m definitely eager to structure it differently for upcoming projects.) Someone gave me a good piece of advice that touring goes easier if you are collecting something so I collect stickers or local beers, something hyperspecific is my favorite way to do it haha
- Writers often talk about who or what freed them to write their stories. You are, what some would call, “experimental” with your approach to style in this collection. Share some of the work and artists who gave you “permission slips” to write Refuse.
Vievee Francis tha gawd, Danez Smith, Patricia Smith, George Abraham, Noel Quiñones, Itiola Jones, Nicholas Nichols, Suji Kwock Kim, Eduardo C. Corral, Derrick Harriell, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Kiese Laymon, Joshua Nguyen. It’s honestly an innumerably long list of people and works, I speak mostly in movie quotes and book references so I’m going to just cut it here before folks get bored.
- You wrote some gritty, uncomfortable truths. Of all the individuals that have responded and reacted to your work, can you tell us a little bit about some of the most validating experiences you’ve had?
I think the thing that always gets me is how many people say they are buying two copies, one for them and one for when their kid grows up and can handle the things I wrote, old enough to recognize that it was with them in mind. When I was born and my mom was passed out my dad, true to form, went on a walk to a bookstore and bought a copy of Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land and held it for me until I was about 13 or 14 years old. It’s still one of my most cherished possessions. It’s wild considering that at some level folks are doing the same with Refuse.
- In Heavy, Kiese Laymon writes, “I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words.” Writing is more revision than anything else. Let us know what your revision process looks like and how it has changed over time.
Aight, I’ve been told my methodology is weird where it comes to poem edits but this is what works for me. I generally write the title before anything else, then I leave that title at the top of a word doc for about 2 weeks. If I come back and I’m still gassed to write it, I have a poem. If not, I had a feeling more than I had an emotion and it was likely not that sentiments time to mature. I write my first drafts in one sitting, no matter how long it takes. Then I put the poem in another folder I call “The Vault” because I’m dramatic. It stays there for about two weeks and I tweak some things and send to a couple of friends who are my close read editors. After that, it might be done or it might get completely dismantled by a question, either is productive honestly. Also shoutout to Kiese Laymon, an icon and big brother extraordinaire!
- Do you find yourself reading mostly poetry, or do you read across genres? What’s on your bookshelf right now and what is one of your most anticipated releases of 2020?
It was definitely 90% poetry for a few years and it is still without a doubt my favorite genre to read. I’m also writing more prose these days while I let my mind feel towards a new idea of what I want from a poem so I’ve been reading a ton of prose in all honesty, YA especially because there’s such a rich landscape of new and daring writers there. I’m in my second readthrough of an arc I snagged of Kwame Mbalia’s superb Tristan Strong Punches A Hole in the Sky, also Danez Smith’s Homie, I never leave home without my copy of Notes From The Divided Country and definitely am loving the hell out of Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune For Your Disaster. A couple others: I’ve been deep in my Morrison bag via audiobook, this week it’s Sula, also my first time in Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, splitting time between Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper and his upcoming Book of Lost Saints! J.C. Cervantes’ The Fire Keeper arrived a few days ago, and hype to spend the weekend with Shira Erlichman’s Odes to Lithium. 2020 is going to be a buck wild year in Poetry but if I have to choose, I will say it’s a tie between George Abraham’s first full length, Birthright, and Eduardo C. Corral’s return in Guillotine. But I could pick 17 different combos of 2020 titles and feel no less excited!
- For writers, rejection is a way of life. What was the worst rejection you’ve had to deal with so far in your writing career? How did you recover?
Well, the funniest one was getting rejected by a magazine that I didn’t actually send anything to. I am still not really clear how that happened, but it’s been a great story to tell aspiring writers when they’re feeling a bit down in the dumps. But hardest, hmm, I think it may have been 2016 CantoMundo. It was a lot going on overall that day but I definitely took that one into my chest for a good minute. I have been, by virtue of anti-Blackness, made to feel far from Latinidad even though I am it, proudly and inextricably. It’s hard to be so excited to join a bastion, a family for many of your people and be told this isn’t your year and not feel like maybe you’ll never get to go, to be a part. But then I got in this year and resolved to just try and rap my ass off in every workshop and I had a great time and def seeded some drafts and ideas that can finally come out of the vault in a bit.
- As an MFA candidate in Poetry at Ole Miss, what advice do you have for writers who are considering an MFA program?
Pick the faculty you want, not the name you’re told to want. Ole Miss, especially when I first arrived was an almost criminally underestimated program. I mean to the point I hadn’t even been told Ole Miss was full funding, let alone had one of the most diverse faculty in the MFA world. And the most generous faculty in the game, I’m prepared to die on that hill. I never in all my academic life felt so much like my teachers, my mentors were looking at me as a peer that they treated with utmost care. Growing there was a joy for me, seek an MFA that believes in you to the point that growth becomes a form of joy. And if you’re Black in an MFA, do what you came to do. If one of your references isn’t easily legible to non-Black classmates or faculty… well, we all have campus IDs and thus we are all only a hop skip and a jump away from the library feel me?
- What can we look forward to reading from you next, and how can readers stay connected to your work?
I’m on Twitter and IG as @JulianThePoet so follow me for poems, new publication links and intensive analysis of old episodes of Glee!
As far as new work goes the things that are likely coming out next are a collection of essays that I’ve been working on that thread personal narrative and considerations of Americana with various bits of 2010’s pop culture. Hopefully, I’ll have more news on that soon but for now, I just keep my fingers crossed and let my amazing agent do one of the (many) things she does best! I’m working on a lot of projects right now and just hoping the world doesn’t explode before I learn how they end.
Please consider celebrating this collection of poetry by buying a copy here.