Back in 2010, I was 22 years old and eager to find a way to put my own work out. But I didn’t know where nor how to begin a publishing journey. Instead, I got on stage to perform pieces that would be foundational to it. Why? My exposure to poetry wasn’t contemporary poets on the page, but poets from Def Jams Poetry. I’d finger snap from my screen alongside the engulfed crowd, captivated over the wordplay, the rhythm, and the blues. Afterward, I was constantly inspired and believed I, too, could create powerful poetry.
But if there was a literary world, I came from art out of space. I had written on and off for years based on mood, motivation, and everything in between. Yet, I didn’t know enough to land my poems in literary contests or magazines. Nor was I interested in pursuing an MFA. I had learned enough (so I thought) being a double major at SUNY Albany
I don’t recall the day or time, but I can clearly remember the decision to make A Walk Through Brooklyn. It was shortly after graduating from SUNY Albany and I landed a job handling claims at an insurance company. The money allowed me to rent my first apartment and fully transition into adulthood. But I still didn’t quite feel satisfied. And it wasn’t just the facts I was one of the few Black people there and the job entailed getting yelled at by random people all day long.
I was in this weird space of wanting to be a writer but not knowing how to support myself as one. The only writers I knew were professors. Even so, most of my interactions with them were centered around passing their classes. Back then, in my head, publishing and being a professor just came with the territory.
In reality, the life of a writer is a hard path, especially with no clear road map. What’s a query letter to a project kid? A fellowship to a first-generation college graduate? Or a residency to a young man with no parent to return home to? What I did know was that I had to put together a manuscript. I had several dozen poems to choose from between what I journaled, saved on word documents, and performed between high school and throughout college.
My goals were simple: aim for excellence and create something you can be proud of. This translated to reading books about publishing, working with distributors, beta readers, and creating opportunities out of my own art. When paperback copies of A Walk Through Brooklyn arrived at my apartment, I did everything I could think of to promote it. I messaged my Facebook friends list, emailed people, and texted friends. (I even cracked the Amazon Kindle Bester Seller list in African American Poetry.) But my boldest move was to set up book signings. I put on a suit, wrote up a pitch, drove to a handful of the nearest booksellers, and pitched whoever was a decision-maker.
Was I nervous?
But I told myself, “All I need is one yes!”
That first “Yes” came from the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany. And I was hyped. My fraternity brothers, college friends, and a former professor showed up. And I performed in front of all of them. The support was so overwhelming I thought, If each book signing goes like this, I can afford to take care of myself as a writer. But that was far from the case the next book signing only a handful of people came. Still, I continued anyway: creating more partnerships with other bookstores, participating in book fairs like the Bronx Book Fair, and attending conferences like National Black Writers Conference to hear authors. Eventually, I obtained my MFA—which you don’t have to—but I did.
To think that journey began 12 years ago. Now I’m a professor with 3 poetry books; manuscripts and musings from other genres. And still writing. But one aspect of this journey still lingered. How could I recapture the spoken word feel? The audiobook of A Walk Through Brooklyn does just that. With it, you can hear how every word is supposed to sound. To me, it’s the sounds of success. To others, you hear the up and down experiences of a Black boy growing up in Canarsie. Regardless, I hope you decide to support my latest endeavor.
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