What books are currently on your nightstand? (Or wherever you keep the ones you're working through?)
What’s the last great book you read?
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
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?
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?
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
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?
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?
How did you come to decide to write the novel?
Knucklehead’s prologue is extremely powerful. How would you say it connects to the book thematically?
Whom would you want to write your life story?
I understand there is already an audio book out. Who is the narrator?
If Knucklehead is optioned for a movie, who would be in your dream cast?
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.