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Big Books Issue

Michelle Antoinette Nelson aka LOVE the Poet

Poet, spoken-word artist

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A

Frank Klein

City Paper: What are you reading now?

Michelle Nelson: I’m finishing The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. And I started reading God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero.

CP: How did you get started on James Baldwin?

MN: A friend of mine is an avid fan, and she had me read Giovanni’s Room in order to write a piece about it, which is actually in my book [Black Marks on White Paper]. It’s called “Call Me David.” His writing is extremely poetic, and the time frame in which he was writing, I mean it’s way ahead of his time. Just being a black male gay author in that time frame and to be able to write from the perspective of a European white man and make it utterly believable was amazing. So I’m moving through his catalog.

CP: Do you tend to do that, to pick an author and read everything they’ve written?

MN: Yes. I’m that person who goes to the mall and sees a shirt, and if I like it I get all the colors.

CP: Do you think consciously about your own writing when you’re reading?

MN: It depends on the author. I think more about my work when I listen to certain musicians, MCs and singers and their writing.

CP: Do you remember a book that really struck you when you were young?

MN: There were two. One was To Kill a Mockingbird. The first one, though, is A Wrinkle in Time. I actually reread it. I worked at a school for three years and they had it on the reading list so I went into the teacher’s room and grabbed it and read it again. That whole series by Madeleine L’Engle is amazing. I’m big into sci-fi. And then there’s the Anne of Green Gables series. I loved that too. I’d actually like to reread that as an adult because I can’t remember quite why I loved it so much.

CP: Do you remember why To Kill a Mockingbird affected you?

MN: I think it was the language and the fact that we were able to read it at such a young age. It was very abrupt and frank and honest and it was an interesting storyline as well. But I think it was the language. Because they cursed a bit in there. I think that’s what really sparked my interest.

CP: Did you read poetry as a kid?

MN: Did I read poetry? When I was a kid? No.

CP: How did you become a poet?

MN: I don’t know. I was 11 years old and I wrote my first poem. I was born in 1981, an ’80s baby and a ’90s teenager. Of course I listened to hip-hop and R&B and things like that. I often attribute it to the music, but it really was a foreign thing. It even took my parents off guard a little bit. It was just kind of given to me. When I realized what was happening, and they were trying to teach it in school, it was the driest curriculum. I was like I don’t need to know this, I already do this. I do it without knowing this. I was really turned off by it.

CP: Are there books that you reread?

MN: There’s a book called [Shambhala:] The Sacred Path of the Warrior. I read it like a bible. I read it over and over again. The Panther and the Lash, by Langston Hughes. It was the last book he wrote before he died. A completely amazing work and it’s not the work that they tell us about. I actually wrote a poem called “Langston, 1967” after reading some of the poems out of here. He died in the late ’60s. It was really a testimony to the fact that as writers we don’t ever stop. People keep him in a certain era but he was right there along with the Panthers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and all of that, being a vanguard for the people. There’s one more book that I read often. It’s called Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a really great book for women.

CP: Are there books that you feel like you should read but just haven’t gotten around to?

MN: Yes, most of them that are on my shelves. I actually just got a few books off of Amazon about quantum physics. I think they’re so interesting. I got The Science of the Mind. I like how the whole idea leads to the law of attraction.

CP: Are there any books that you’re looking forward to reading in the near future?

MN: My mother got me this book called Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan. It has a little bit of sentimental value, because when Waiting to Exhale came out I was like 14, and before the movie came out my mother made me read the book. That book was awesome. It made my mother, like, 18 billion times cooler in my eyes. So recently she got me Getting to Happy, and I was just thinking the other day, I should read it.

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