As a kid, reading provided all the excitement I needed in my life. Instead of getting into the usual youthful mischief, I raided bookshelves for daily fixes of story books, poetry, and comics; squirreling away snippets of dialogue and clever phrases for later use.
My mother instilled in me at an early age the importance of literacy. She made sure there were always books around even when there was no television. And when I had devoured every book in the house, my mother marched me to the library to restock.
It wasn’t long before I began to create my own stories. They were nothing elaborate, but these stories allowed to express myself in ways I had never envisioned. Words became my escape, taking me to places that transcended the poverty, squalor, and despair that surrounded me.
In elementary school, I would spend several hours drawing pictures and plotting stories to go with them. Although my teachers were frustrated by my short attention span, they never discouraged my writing efforts. My second grade teacher decided to cultivate my creativity by encouraging me to write a story to submit to the district-wide writing competition. I wrote a story about a fast horse that won a race. The story was accepted and earned me first place in my grade category. I was proud of my accomplishment until my teacher made me read my story to a class of fifth-graders whose writing skills left much to be desired. Needless to say, I was not popular among the members of that class. A couple of the boys showed me how displeased they were with a few insults and several well-placed kidney punches.
After this scathing critique, I decided to abandon my literary aspirations. And I didn’t write a single story for years. It wasn’t until I entered high school that my writing fire was re-ignited. For some reason, I decided to read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. That book had a profound affect on my life. Here was a young black man experiencing the same things I was experiencing – the ravages of ghetto life exacerbated by alienation, confusion, and a feeling of hopelessness – yet he managed to pull himself out of the mire and become a successful writer despite the obstacles. I was determined to do the same. Kidney punches or not
Since then, I have been published in several magazines, websites, journals, anthologies, and newspapers. I haven’t reached James Baldwin status, but I plan to reach that level one day.
Yet my accomplishments have made my life a little more complex. I cannot become complacent because I have to take the weight for all the kids in my old neighborhood who are chided for their literary pursuits. I have to be a role model, a mentor, and a teacher when all I ever wanted to be was a good man and a good writer.