Describe your involvement in QCA. What have you participated in?
QCA funded my project Osain’s Children, about herbalists of the African Diaspora, in 2010. It was—and still is—a project close to my heart. I have also been a panelist twice for the QCA grant.
How has QCA helped you grow both professionally and personally?
When I received the letter saying I had been awarded the QCA grant, I cried. I had been a stay-at-home mother for the three years preceding the grant, and I was just starting to come back above ground with my creative work. The grant gave me a feeling that I was moving in the right direction. It was a huge boost and an affirmation. One of the best things about getting the grant was that it provided me an opportunity to take the work I was doing to the community I live in, and doing that was something I’d had in mind for a while. In fact, the herbal workshops I did through QCA in 2010 were so successful that I decided to do another series of workshops in 2011.
Why Queens? What is it about living here that draws you in?
I was born and raised in LeFrak City and now I live in Jamaica. Queens is the most diverse county in the world and you get used to that. When I travel places and only one language is being spoken or there is no variety of foods or cultures, it is disconcerting to me. I love coming back home and seeing the world. I’ve realized, too, that we have the best food in Queens. When I tell people that, they look at me like I’m crazy but the proof is in the pudding. Thai food in Queens makes anything I’ve had in Manhattan taste bland. Indian food in Queens is varied and incredible. We have African restaurants—like Maima’s—where the food tastes just like home cooking. The Jamaican food and Guyanese food are amazing. I’ve heard we have some great soul food restaurants here, too, and believe that, but I cook my own.
I call Queens the practical borough. People here are doing their work and raising their families. In my neighborhood folks (including me, despite all outer appearances) are just trying to make it from day to day, and that helps me keep things in my life in perspective. That might sound odd, but I mean it. I can write all the poetry I want, study all the herbs I want, but if I can’t make what I do and what I learn applicable to the people I see every day then it serves no purpose. There is something about life in Queens that doesn’t allow a person to get their head in the clouds, and I like that.
Is there a great lesson you learned in the process?
I did not do that chapbook project I intended to. I did not have the energy to start a new project in the midst of all the things I already had in progress. Editing is such an intense process and I would need more distance from the poems in order to really look at them critically. What I have done is complete a draft of a series of letters to a young poet. I am thrilled about this. I shared some of the letters when I was at Texas A&M International University and a student there named Margaret asked me if I was planning to publish them in a book. I loved the idea. So over the course of the last six months I have written drafts of eleven letters to a poet I call Continuum. Continuum is a poet dedicated to writing and activism. I feel like Rilke’s letters are amazing and I wanted to do something similar— but for a poet who is concerned with writing and social justice—so this is the result. I guess this teaches me that as artists we have to be open to changing our plans sometimes. We have to be flexible. If it were not for Margaret, I would not have written more letters. Even as I was out on the road meeting all of these young poets, it would not have occurred to me. It took her planting the seed to get me to do it.