What books are currently on your nightstand? (Or wherever you keep the ones you're working through?)
Right now I am working on Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power, by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy. Nonfiction, for a change. It is eye-opening.
What’s the last great book you read?
I am reading “great” here not as just very good but as life-changing and important. Time capsule shit. So for me the answer is The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. More nonfiction. The only thing I can liken it to is Roots. It is the work of a lifetime, and she already had a Pulitzer when she wrote it. Wilkerson is a towering genius.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
See, now you are trying to get a brother in trouble. I’m not going to say that no one has heard of someone’s book! That’s mean. Not to mention, it would make me look like some sort of hipster: “It’s a pretty obscure book; you’ve probably never heard of it.” I hate those guys.

That said, I don’t know if I have ever met another Geoff Nicholson fan. Maybe because he’s a Brit, but there are famous Brits here. I think that Nicholson is, to put it mildly, underrated, at least in the States. His writing style—particularly his approach to humor—was a huge and conscious influence on me as I wrote Knucklehead. Still Life with Volkswagens is one of my favorites.

What moves you most in a work of literature?
My favorite books (and movies) spawn a little world inside my head that never ends. They create a new filter through which I see the world.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I like reading nerdy people of color. Mat Johnson, Junot Diaz, Victor LaValle. I like reading thoughts I almost had but didn’t. I like reading serious subject matter handled in a readable and even humorous way.

In recent years I have come to avoid taking on other people’s trauma. I have enough of my own already. I also don’t like gratuitously flowery prose. Telling me something real in direct and beautiful way is what speaks to me personally.

I guess I don’t read romance novels, but in general I try not to get hung up on genre.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
Maybe The Handmaid’s Tale? I would love for Knucklehead to do for others what The Handmaid’s Tale did for me 30 years ago.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
That’s easy. Easy Rawlins’ BFF, Mouse. Same answer for both questions. I love Mouse.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a more voracious reader as a child than I am now. Probably, the book that most affected me was Native Son. I remember reading the last 50 pages or so in class. I was in junior high school, or possibly even elementary school. I don’t remember what class that was or who the teacher was but, whoever it was, that was a good teacher. My nose was buried in a book; they left me alone and let me lose myself in Wright. Other early books I remember gravitating towards were cautionary tales: Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Watership Down, 1984, like that.
Who were or are your literary inspirations?

Frank McCourt was my homeroom teacher in high school, and I took a number of English classes with him as well. This was decades before Angela’s Ashes, but Mr. McCourt was always an extraordinary and generous human being. He loved us. He expanded our minds.

Mat Johnson. I was at a VONA Voices faculty reading and this dude read a short story about a guy trying to start a career “henching” – working as a henchman for some low-level wannabe supervillain. It was hilarious and violent. I was like, “Word? This is a thing?” So I read a bunch of Mat and eventually met him and did a workshop with him. Mat took a lot of time reading Knucklehead and giving me feedback that was absolutely priceless. He helped me take the book to the next level. This all would not be happening without his mentorship.

You’re organizing a literary dinner gathering. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Barack Obama. That’s a little bit cheating, because it’s not for the books he’s written, but he is also a writer.

Maya Angelou. I love her. It’s creepy to say that about someone you’ve never met. But she put so much of herself on the page. I love her.

Nelson Mandela. Again, he was also a writer, so I’m cheating but not really.

The narrative and dialogue in Knucklehead flows so smoothly. How much of the book is autobiographical, if any?

I would love to say “None,” because I think that the question distracts somewhat, but I couldn’t get away with that. Even though in a way it’s true. None of it is journalism. I could also make the argument that it isall autobiographical, in a way—every word I write is unavoidably the product of my thoughts and experiences. So instead I will just say that some of it is autobiographical.

The most egregious events did indeed happen pretty much the way I wrote them. To me, “the most egregious events” would be the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the videotaped murder of Latasha Harlins and her convicted killer’s release in 1991, the assassination of Yitzak Rabin in 1995—things like that. Totally happened.

When did you first begin to write? Did you keep journals?
I have been writing pretty steadily my whole life. I have journaled. But there are opportunities to write—really write—almost every day. I have never agreed with the view that texting or other media cause thoughtless writing. Thoughtlessness causes thoughtless writing. Mark Twain would have written dope texts. Every time.
How did you come to decide to write the novel?
I didn’t. I wrote a short story, and then another, and eventually I realized that I was in the early stages of a novel. That is consistent with my personal experience. I do what I do, and at some point I look around and figure out what it is that I am doing. My greatest accomplishments began with no particular goal in mind.
Knucklehead’s prologue is extremely powerful. How would you say it connects to the book thematically?
Really glad you asked this. For me, the prologue is an exercise to aid in the reading of the book. There’s the obvious interpretation. And then there is the opportunity to view the action in context. I could say a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Whom would you want to write your life story?
With the caveat that my life story isn’t nearly as interesting as Marcus’, Jordan Peele. I think he would do an amazing job and, between Keanu and Get Out, I think he would get it. Mostly, though, like Obama, that would just be a fun way to meet him.
I understand there is already an audio book out. Who is the narrator?
The audio book is read by L. Steven Taylor. Audio books are just his side hustle. By day he is Mufasa in The Lion King on Broadway. When I heard him read the first chapter, I started dancing around and pumping my fist in the air like I was watching sports. He is awesome.
If Knucklehead is optioned for a movie, who would be in your dream cast?
If the entire cast and crew of Black Panther could reconvene and shoot Knucklehead, I would really appreciate it.
Would there be a soundtrack? What artists, songs, would you envision? Director?

There is a soundtrack: a playlist I listened to while I wrote the book. It’s mostly ‘90s, like me. The first track is What I Know About Love, by King’s X. There is a lot of hip-hop from the era covered in the book –Sound of the Police, Fight the Power, How I Could Just Kill a Man, like that. There is some old school, most notably More Bounce to the Ounce. Coalking, by Oxbow, and Things That Made Me Change, by Macy Gray, represent pivotal and particularly hopeless moments. There is a lot of Ministry and a lot of Whale on the Knucklehead playlist. The last song, which I imagine playing during the closing credits, is Bad Thingsby L7.

No but seriously Ryan Coogler would direct the fuck out of Knucklehead. I say this not even so much because of Black Panther as Fruitvale Station. I have never seen anything like Fruitvale Station.

What do you envision Marcus doing now?
I’m thinking that’s the next book.
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