I appreciate the time that you will take to chat with me and suspect my conversation with you will be an “eye opener” for the aaduna readership so let’s get right into it. You write under the pseudonym “Persecution Avenue.” While guarding one’s true identity is nothing new in the world of literature, I am intrigued with the name you selected, Persecution Avenue. What’s it about this particular name that led you to use it. I am sure there is a story and rationale; please share the reason for the name and why you feel that it best fits who you are as a person and poet/spoken word artist.
I’m happy to do it.
The name’s birth was a long evolution instead of one definitive event. Laughing to myself, Persecution came from a night of drinking and Avenue from a night of listening to Erykah Badu. The 2nd grade and the discovery of Amiri Baraka left me wanting a pen name; and the struggle through an abbreviated version of Dante’s Inferno left me with an obsession with the number seven. I was a weird kid like that; into the expected slam artists’ influences like Baraka but also enamored by religious, philosophical, classical literature well outside of my grasp. Thus, I started using Seven as a name and swore it was the deepest thing in conception. Throughout middle school and high school, the obsession with the completeness of Seven intensified. During my first year in the Navy, I still used the name even though I increasingly felt the name was juvenile and poorly conceived. Erykah Badu named her son Sevyn and I knew I had to let it go. I was probably ready to change it anyway. I started to slack on actual writing but continued going to spoken word events while on deployment and stateside in Washington State. If I got drunk enough to pine for the mic, I’d use whatever came to mind as a name. D. Angry Black Man Clark later D.A.B.M.C and D. Unintentional Black Man are three names that I remember using. After the military, still nameless, I enrolled at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Between 2004 (service exit) and 2007, I had been writing but I had not been congregating with the writing community; which anyone who knows the community knows that means that I’d basically fallen out of touch and probably not done enough. At Benedict however, I became part of the Benedict College Art Intelligentscia. Called Bcarti for short, it is the school’s poetry society/ social organization and poetry slam team. Again I used a bunch of random names. During the second semester, the group’s president made a smart-aleck comment about my tendency in bringing up the most controversial issue that I could think of and then continues with something along the lines of “Who’s persecuted you?” It’s been 6.5 years so I don’t remember the heated conversation verbatim, but we were at the off- campus apartments having one of our “organization direction meetings” and Amsterdam gin had just made it to Columbia. Suffice it to say I don’t remember much from that night, but the comment she made that sparked the conversation stuck. I left Benedict after one year and stopped writing again. About a year went by and I hadn’t fully finished a piece. In 2009 I went back to school, choosing to major in English instead of Music, and attending Coppin State University in Baltimore instead of Benedict. Somewhere along the way things changed. One day writing was a hobby, the next, my main focus. It sounds corny but I remember listening to Erykah Badu’s – Love of my life and laughing at myself and my love hate relationship with writing. I started attending spoken word events in Baltimore again – watching not participating. Around this time, I got the tattoo across my chest that says Persecution is Inevitable. Something about Persecution alone didn’t say enough however. I grew up on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore City. My mom and I actually lived in the same block that once housed the Famous Royal Theatre though when I lived there it was a baseball field and statue of Billie Holiday, only. After a class project in Jazz Survey while at Coppin, I added Avenue as a way to show reverence and echo the connection. I also use P.A.
I definitely think it fits. The name itself is of course a double entendre for some of the messed up, unavoidable, personal situations that I have been through, and this recurring idea of unavoidable systematic conflict from birth These ideas unknowingly infused into my writing for a long time; almost all of my characters seem to be the victim of some sort of Persecution. Ebony, Bcarti’s president, was right. I also focus on misandry, the little known opposite to misogyny – I’d love the name to signify to readers that a poem, a short, book, collection, even a blurb by me is going to be like a thoroughfare of insurmountable circumstances for an underdog that has no other choice but fight it out.
…this is the whole process as best I can remember it.
Intriguing and informative naming story and I am pleased that you took the time to explain your name’s evolution. I was surprised by the military experience, and now wonder how the Navy may have informed your writing or overall outlook and perspective on life?
It definitely changed me as a person; though, I’ve often asked myself if it was for the better or worse. I went into the Navy directly from High school Did I mention I had a son on the way? Headstrong to say the least; like most 18 year olds, I thought I knew much more than I did. That being said, the international window provided by the military was a huge wake up call. For example, Baltimore is a predominately African American city- last I’d read somewhere around 60%; but almost everywhere else in the world, we are a definite and visible minority. If nothing more than culture shock, it was a huge adjustment. The race concentration difference in of itself wasn’t bad or good but it forced me to take some risks that I probably wouldn’t have taken in Baltimore City. I was stationed in Washington State where there are a lot of woodsy activities – e.g. camping, mountain biking, hot springs. Such things exist in Maryland but aren’t very accessible or popular in the city. On the negative side of things, I also got to see some of the issues of the world up close and in person. Exposure to such negativity forced me to confront a lot of the race related stereotypes permeated through the media. I actually met American citizens that had never met an African American person and subsequently thought that we were mostly like um- “The Wire” or “Boyz in the Hood”- seriously. Not to mention, in Japan there is a huge hip hop cultural following but most of the Japanese that I met also made the assumption that all African Americans were a part of the hip hop stereotypes. It was just a wake up call all the way around and that wake up call changed the conscious level of my writing.
I used to focus on a lot of relationship/ sex angled topics, but after the military my writing took a definitive turn toward focusing on those same African American stereotypes and either trying to suggest a solution if they were based on fact or asking readers/ listeners of other races to realize that skin color doesn’t determine who you are but that believing those stereotypes definitely hinder and hurt.
So, an “expecting” teenage father who is also in the Navy leads me to believe this was a strenuous and exciting chapter in your life. How much of you do you now see in your son and what are your expectations of him? I grew up in the Bronx and had the opportunity to live Baltimore in the early Eighties. I now know another option of living in a small city, rural, agricultural environment. With your world view, how do you relate to living in 21st century B’more and the social/economic situations that exist there, and is an African American woman mayor making a difference for the majority of black folk in that city?
Wow Bill, I almost feel like this question is a setup for me to go on a rant- you mentioned two of my favorite topics, my son and SRB as she’s affectionately called. On my son, his mother and I are actually going through a nasty, yet sadly typical visitation case. Without going into the particulars, we both have faults in the matter and hopefully we’ll be through it soon. Either way, he also lives in Baltimore City, so he’s going through much of the same stuff that I went through. I understand why he does a lot of the things that he does. At 13 though, he’s at that age where he can think for himself and thankfully, he’s as conscious as both his mother and I. I’m sure he’ll figure out a lot of the things that I had to, faster than me (laughing to myself again); he does now so, why would his adult life by any different. If I could give him two things in spades though: find out for yourself and still keep an open mind. Don’t believe what you’re told without researching it thoroughly. Even once you find the answer though, rationally consider the answer and if it doesn’t make sense, reconsider the answer you’ve found. With the influx of finger knowledge and internet experts, no one should believe what they read without a little logical assessment. Now on to SRB; where do I begin?
How about the acronyms for her name that you’ll often find splayed across Facebook with the letters replaced, Seriously Redundant Broad replays in the back of my mind as I type this but there have been worse. Afterone of the local papers, not sure if it was The Sun or The City Paper, rode her for a while, followed by the national media slating her as one of the worst mayors in the US, the social-sphere exploded with colorful names for her. Honestly, I don’t think she’s as bad of a person as most portray. I also don’t think it’s an issue of her being a black women. I mean to be honest Baltimore is basically run by black women. I just don’t think she was meant to be Mayor. And I know someone will say that Baltimore exemplifies a town run by those that obviously don’t know what they are doing. I won’t chalk it up to sex, though so many have. Since she’s been in office, she’s done several things that show not only a lack of connection with her city and its citizens but also a lack of understanding politics and public face. One of those questionable decisions was bringing the Grand Prix to Baltimore. The long and short, she brought Grand Prix style racing to Baltimore costing the city several road repaving projects, street closures and a lot of setup for a festival surrounding the race that was supposed to put millions of dollars into the pockets of merchants and bring the City something new to do. The problems: the style of racing isn’t really something that most Baltimoreans are interested in; Baltimore isn’t a big enough tourist town to bring in the number of tourist that she was predicting, and the end revenue didn’t get close to offsetting the cost of the street repairs to allow the race to take place. Did I mention that the first company skipped out of town without paying their debts?
As someone raised in Baltimore, she should’ve known that the sort of racing would never make the City as much revenue as the advocating companies claimed. Even still, politicians make bad decisions all the time but a good politician can recover from almost anything; look at Marion Berry. Instead SRB made things worst. After a second year of Grand Prix foolishness, she allowed another racing entity to do the exact same thing to the City a year later. During an interview, she basically came across as if she was offended that anyone would question her decisions. Then later, she exerted the same attitude when questioned about her and some of her fellow female politicians’ personal spending habits. So all in all, I think she never had the qualities that make a successful politician. And as much as I love my town, a lot of the foolishness in politics continues to happen here in the City and in the State at large because citizens don’t tend to research a politician before they are elected. Baltimore is one of those towns that the incumbent is almost sure to win, especially a black woman.
While I do not consider your assessment a rant on either topic, issues surrounding your son or the 49th mayor of Baltimore, the Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, I am cautiously reminded of the ire (imagined or real) between black men and black women during what I call the “Waiting to Exhale” period where it seemed that black men could not do anything right for black women, who tended to be positioned as being “always right,” at least in the “public’s” social consciousness. In these days and 21st century times, I would hope African-Americans, regardless of sex, political persuasion, or economic means can passionately challenge, debate and celebrate what others of the race are doing or not doing with understanding, compassion, and constructive options for change that can affect future generations. With that said, I suspect your son will assess for himself the lessons and advice his parents continue to deliver and chart his path that will make both parents proud. As far as the politics of Baltimore, who the elected players are, their strengths or shortcomings, and local and regional challenges faced by the City’s residents will remain the distinct purview of Baltimoreans. So, what does the rest of the year and a fast approaching New Year hold for you? Are you securely tied to B’more or as your son gets older, are you considering other places to call home? And are you performing these days?
The scene where Angela Basset torches the car, lights a cig, and walks away as the car blazes in the background definitely left a reference, maybe even a reverence, for scorn women in my 13 yr old brain. And to an extent, I do believe that there is a backlash against that “Black Queen” image that goes along with the character’s actions; however, I also believe that the same mindset is directly responsible for the anger of African-Americans that is wrapped in the sexes that you mentioned. It’s as simple as the first notion behind any equal rights struggle; no one wants to be at a disadvantage because of their demographic group. I do hope African- Americans learn to work toward a collective mindset of progress and restructuring regardless of sex, but I think the country in all, regardless of race or ethnicity could probably use a lot of the same.
With the New Year coming fast, I’m feverishly working on several projects that I’m sure will bring the year in with a bang. As you and I had discussed, I’ve recently started blogging. Called “Persecuted Knowledge,” it’s basically a conversation between me and a friend where we discuss societal issues that are somehow rooted in mob mentality or irrational thinking. I am publishing my first Novella and shortly thereafter my first collection of short stories, right at the New Year. The novella in January, the collection in March, and I am beyond excited. Both highlight the masculinist ideology that I am extremely passionate about. I am hoping that each will provide a tangible window into the systematic oppression of masculine ideals that so many laugh off as whining.
On B’more, honestly Bill, I love my city but the truth is it’s time for me to move on. Knowing that you spent some time here, I’m sure you can appreciate the limitations of a city of this size. I’m at that point where a good MFA program, publishing deal, or substantial writing gigs in a larger city like New York, Seattle, or Atlanta, and I’m gone. My son is at the age that he can travel to me and opportunities can’t be taken lightly.
My last performance was at the Nicholas in BK, on my birthday back in January. Gotta be honest, I was super turned up, super drunk and super awful- but we all have those nights. Afterward, I stepped away from spoken word to start work on the projects that I just mentioned. This year has basically been spent focusing on the larger projects to put out as I search for that MFA Program.
(Our readers may not know what BK means so enlighten us!)
As an educator with years of experience in higher ed, I hope you search and eventually find a program that works best for you. Only because of prior associations with a few institutions that I enjoyed being affiliated with, you may want to check out The New School University in NYC, as well as Antioch University out of Yellow Springs, Ohio that may offer a remote Masters program…As we bring our chat to closure [unfortunately,] I am interested in where are you headed as a life goal? For some reason, I see screenwriting and films in your future because your stories are vibrant in words; however, I suspect the visual imagery of film may enable you to tell a story, evolve, and stretch your imagination in ways that might now be conceivable. How am I off-base?
So True Bill, Nicholas of Brooklyn is a health food store, located at 570 Fulton St. in Brooklyn NY. They have been a major home for spoken word and Indie artists for awhile. Live music, live words and live people that are welcoming, encouraging and turnt up. The atmosphere on a Saturday night there will inspire anybody to fall into the Indie artist groove, an amazing spot.
I’m sure the grad school thing will work its way out as all things do with persistence. I’m not sure about film directing, but I am partial to dialogue and speech, so maybe. You’re not the first educator to tell me this, so maybe I’m fighting the current here, unnecessarily. My first genre of writing was the play, and I have written several one scene and two full length plays that I’ve yet to start shopping, so who knows. I have also been kicking around the idea of a web series, so I’ll keep you and aaduna in the loop.
In closing, Bill let me first thank you for this opportunity to be heard, poetry wise and through this interview. The service that aaduna is providing is so essential. Coming from the standpoint of a contributor and a reader, I can’t thank you enough. I hope I’ve answered all of your questions, and the readers’ as well. To the readers, I can be found on most social media networks under the name Persecution Avenue or PersecutionAve on twitter. A quick search on Facebook, Google Plus, WordPress, or a few other sites and you’ll find me. I can also be reached through my website, www.dantonioclarksr.wix.com/persecution. On the site, you’ll see that I also offer a host of writing services from editing to search engine optimized ghostwriting. Thanks again and I’ll be talking to you soon.
I was just in Brooklyn visiting with my daughter, her first child and family about a week ago. I will have to keep Nicholas of Brooklyn in mind when I do the next downstate road trip. With that said, I thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I started a tradition of sorts by having my ‘chat guest’ to answer 10 questions quickly and without much thought So, here are your ten. With this exercise in fun, I graciously thank you yet again for your participation, and look forward to reading and publishing more work from you. Stay strong!
N.B. Persecution Avenue’s responses are in red.
When driving, audio books or IPad with music?
Google music on random
Potato chips or pretzels?
Tortilla chips, chicken, green peppers, black olives, red onions, queso-oven at 375 for 15- 20 minutes.
Thanksgiving or Christmas?
New Year’s ( I start celebrating my birthday a few days early)
Tap water or bottled water?
Tap- Love that Chlorinated taste
Football or basketball?
Football- Go Ravens
Farina or grits?
Cream of Wheat
Jazz or Rock?
Both and everything in-between
“American Idol” or “The Voice?”
Hobo or homeless?
Hobo Bohemian Chic
Nail or screw?
Screw with extra twists
Read Persecution Avenue’s poem, “This Little City”
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.