I am lucky to know Andrea D. Jenkins, a Twin-Cities
based Political Artist/Activist, and a personal role model and friend.
She was gracious enough to speak with me in an interview, below.
ES: What are some identities that are important to you?
AJ: My primary identity is African American transgender artist.
ES: What is your writing process like?
AJ: My writing process…you know, it’s sort of a difficult process to
explain, but I’ll try! It’s really a daily process if you
will. My process includes journaling daily. About ten years ago, I
was introduced to a book by Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.
In the book, it talks about the morning pages and waking up in the
morning before you get your day going…just write, three pages. It’s
partly exercise, partly identifying what’s on your mind, and really just
getting yourself in the practice of writing. And I’m amazed. So
probably for the past ten years, I’ve literally written almost every
day, at least three pages- sometimes more. At first, it was
somewhat disturbing to me, like ‘why can’t I write?’ But when graduate
school was over, I got back to writing daily. One of the key
things it does it lets me know that I have this muscle, that I can
write. When I’m walking around thinking about a specific project,
at some point, it’s like stirring soup. You’ve got all these ingredients
in there, and then it’s ready! And then I write.
Certainly there’s editing, and sometimes I’ll share it with other
people. I really like to read my work out in public, poetry or
essay, and that gives me a sense of how it reads in the air and sounds
on other people’s ears.
I co-curate a Queer Voices Reading Series with
John Medeiros. He and I have created this safe space for writers
and artists to share. With artists and with writers, the point is
to take risks. “You can’t play safe and make art,” that’s a quote
by Gertrude Stein.
ES: My favorite line of your poetry is from “Influences,” where
you say: “my poetry is influenced by wimmin loving womyn and puppies”.
What is your favorite line?
AJ: You know, all of my poetry, I love. All of the lines are my
babies. It’s so funny ‘cause, when I’m having a conversation with
someone and an issue will pop up that I’ve written a poem about, I have
a line a poem that speaks to that. You know, that poem that you
quoted, “Influences,” I don’t know why, but I really love that.
It’s probably one of the poems that I read almost every reading that I
do. And from that poem, I would say my favorite line is “my
poetry is influenced by my trans sista’s and trans brotha’s whose
struggle remains under the radar, until it is time to use the
bathroom.” That line really influences my whole reading
career. It’s a good question, Emily, because it really pushes me
to ask…where is this urge to write, this urge to create coming
from? What is compelling me? And I think that line gets at
ES: Do you have a favorite drag performer? If so, who?
AJ: Bebe Zahara Benet. She
is Parisian-born from Cameroon. She lives and works now in New
York City, but she lived and worked in Minneapolis for a long
time. She was the winner of the first season of RuPaul’s Drag
Race, but she’s a really dear friend of mine. She is the most
creative drag queen I have ever met. She does stage shows, theater
in New York, did a one-woman show beyond her drag performance.
She produced a modeling, coffee table book just of her in all of these
wonderfully beautiful costumes. The name of the book is called
ES: What book do you always recommend to friends/comrades?
AJ: I was on a panel last night, I’m a fellow at the Playwright’s Center,
the Many Voices Fellowship for writers of color. They read our plays
last night and did an artists talk back. They asked me my
influences, and I brought this book: Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire,
written by a Brown University professor, Carole Maso. It’s my
go-to book, whenever I am stuck in my conventional ways of thinking
about language. She plays with language so intensely and
subversively. It opens me up to be able to say things in a new
way. It’s one book that I always refer to on my own, but I also
refer others to it as well.
The book I’m recommending to everyone right now: The Warmth of Other Suns
by Isabel Wilkerson. The title came from a line from a Richard Wright
novel. But this is a non-fiction book that documents the migration
of African Americans from the South to the North. She tells the
story in a very unique way. You can understand that Blacks left
the South because of Jim Crow, right? It tells this story through three
different people. It’s very personal and very scholarly. You
can tell a universal story by being very personal, and vice
versa. And so, by using just three individuals, it allows her to
expand it and make it relevant.
ES: What word or piece of advice do you live by (at the moment).