I first met Emanuel Xavier at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans. Listening to him read was (and still is) a powerful experience. He takes control of his audience, whispering and shouting his truths into its ear like no one else quite can. And those are some powerful and universal truths indeed, be they in prose form (Christ Like) or poetry (as in his most recent release, Nefarious). He recently took some time from his busy schedule of readings and general NYC life to answer a few questions for Out in Print.
Out in Print: What poet or poem was most responsible for your interest in poetry?
Emanuel Xavier: Assotto Saint. He was a gay Haitian poet that died in his thirties to AIDS in 1994. I was working at a gay bookstore in New York City and came across his poetry books. I seriously thought I might be HIV positive at the time and his words inspired me to want to leave something behind. I had an interesting journey and did not want my story to be forgotten or written by somebody else. It turned out I was perfectly healthy but now I had a poetry collection and a voice that needed to be heard. I never even met him or had the chance to thank him but he gave me permission as a queer writer of color to unapologetically pursue my dreams. I had no formal education as a writer and my only literary connection was working at this bookstore but I was determined. More people should know about his work and contributions to our community. Writers like me wouldn’t be here without him.
OiP: Your work is so confessional and personal – is that freeing for you, or does it limit you in some respects?
EX: Both. I have found great freedom in my writing but it has also kept me from perhaps settling down. It has helped me deal with my own personal demons and confront issues that are important to me. However, as far as dating goes, guys are either concerned that they may end up in one of these poems or too concerned with sharing their stories hoping they will. It would be to my benefit to write in metaphors or about things like a pair of scissors.
EX: “The Thing About My Pussy” was great fun because of the double entendre and the humor. Other poems in the book are more representative as far as dealing with sex, religion, politics and delving into my past which those familiar with my work know me for but this one was a lot of fun to write.
OiP: Your readings are always amazing. What do you enjoy most about live performances of your work?
EX: Writing is a solitary act. Not all writers make great readers or like being in front of an audience. It’s not a requirement. Some think it’s perverse to get such pleasure out of a public setting. However, I enjoy being up on stage. My introduction was winning the very first slam poetry competition I ever entered at the Nuyorican Poets Café. I knew then that I had a natural gift for bringing my words to life. It shaped most of my earlier work and I can still get an audience’s attention. I still get nervous much like anybody else but it only means that you actually care.
OiP: How do you feed yourself creatively? What fuels that fire?
EX: I try to read as much as possible when I’m not watching movies or too much television. Sometimes you just have to live and experience life. You never know what will inspire you. I’ve had writer’s block and it’s not fun.
OiP: You’re definitely NYC born and bred – what are the best and worst things about living there? Would you ever live any other place?
EX: Like any other hotspot, it’s that much more of a challenge to find someone to settle down with. Career-wise, it’s full of opportunity if you know where to find it. I genuinely love New York. I’ve lived here all of my life. I’d like to think I could experience living elsewhere at some point. I think perhaps San Francisco could be an ideal setting somewhere down the road.
OiP: I love hearing about writers’ processes. Do you work on paper? Computer? Morning? Evening? Music or total silence?
EX: Sometimes it just needs to be on paper first before I go to my laptop. Other times, it’s right on the computer. Time of day is irrelevant if you are feeling inspired. If I need a push, I’ll listen to some music for motivation. Mostly I prefer to write in silence. Words and thoughts formulate better for me if I’m focused.
OiP: What’s your dream project?
EX: A movie based on the novel Christ Like. There’s been interest but it would have to be done right. By the time that actually happens, it would probably be a period piece.
OiP: What’s next for you? What work do you have in the pipeline?
EX: I see more poetry in my future but I have been approached about writing a memoir. I’m considering my options.
OiP: What else would you say about Nefarious?
EX: I haven’t had the great opportunities that come with an academic background or the support of a major publishing house. There are still so many challenges to being a queer AND minority writer. That and the unlikely trajectory from Pier Queen to this new poetry collection make me appreciate the fact that I still have a career after all these years. All I’ve ever known is the fight to survive. It’s been a bittersweet journey but, if it’s inspired anyone along the way, then it’s all been worth it.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler
- Nefarious – Emanuel Xavier (Queer Mojo Press) (outinprintblog.wordpress.com)