An Interview with Patricia Smith

“…and I was born, and raised, right here” were the last words spoken by Patricia Smith. The entire NJPAC theatre went silent. Breaths of the audience members were taken away for a good five seconds before an eruption of applause filled every corner of the auditorium.

It was Saturday night of the Dodge Poetry Festival 2012, and Smith’s poem, Skinhead, was the most passionate reading I (and I think I speak for my fellow classmates on the trip as well) had experienced yet. Her immaculate use of pronunciation and articulation of each word captivated everyone within hearing distance, causing them to be on the edge of their seats waiting to hear the finishing lines of Smith’s ever-so-famous poem. This was the first time I ever experienced this poem in person; YouTube videos will never do it justice, and after that night I became an even bigger fan of Smith.

With National Poetry Month in sight, that night at the NJPAC rings in my ears. I wondered what Smith has been up too since the Festival, last October. I emailed her to voice these questions, not expecting a reply, and was delighted when the “1” icon appeared over the mail app on my computer, signifying a response. Here’s what she said:

1)      Have you been featured in any other festivals since the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2012?

“I haven’t been involved in any festivals as large as Dodge, but I travel constantly. For instance, I’ve been featured in smaller festivals in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Seattle, Washington; Vancouver BC and Boston. A good deal of my time was taken up at a writing residency in upstate New York. I was given space, time and solitude in order to work on my writing. The experience was nourishing, and invaluable.”

2)      Are you working on any new poetry books? If so, when can we look forward to it coming out?

“I’m almost finished with my next book, although it may be some time before it comes out. I just had a book released last spring, and my publisher believes that if they come out close to one another, they’ll compete instead of complement. I edited an anthology of crime fiction stories that came out in November, and won an award for the story I contributed—so right now I’m dabbling with a book of my own short stories.”

3)      When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

“I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old. My father, who was part of the Great Migration of blacks from the south in the 50’s, was a born storyteller. From him, I learned to think of the world in terms of the stories it could tell. And I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have discovered that exciting way to live my life.”

Being a writer sure is an exciting life, and I can’t until the next time Smith’s path crosses mine, to pour even more inspiration through her words into me.

–Makenzie Fields