Hmm… so this is a pretty broad one. I just got asked this very same question for another interview so I’m just gonna expand on that to even further numb ya J
I started writing poetry at a pretty early age, probably in defiance to a junior high school teacher who thought Asians could only rock at the sciences (yeah I did, and I also studied martial arts and you can stop right there). My first poem came out in a local paper that year, 1988 if I recall, and seeing it in print left a real impression on me.
I had discovered that poetry provided a form of expression that I had a natural connection to. In high school I was constantly producing it as an outlet for my angst filled adolescence and all that, both for school and on my own time. I wrote for the school literary magazine and newspaper whilst at Fairfield Prep, and had great mentors in Barry Wallace and Maureen Duffy. When that proved to not be enough I started an underground paper and submitted short stories to zines under various pseudonyms (one amusingly enough was Damien Wood, which is the protagonists name in my new novel, and like me is a practitioner of spoken-word). I also started a punk band which was my first attempt at combining words and music. At the time I was pretty locked in the whole “so dark and deep is my life” thing that comes with angry young men, and a hell of a lot of my stuff was in rhyming or more traditional forms.
By the time I moved back to the New York City in ‘93, I was pretty prolifically putting out pieces in Zines and doing lots of open mics. Spoken word was something I pretty much stumbled into. As I recall, one drunken afternoon me and a couple friends saw a flyer for a poetry slam at Tower Books and decided to go as a laugh. I had just dealt with the suicide of a stranger (a fictionalized version of this event occurs in Crash Course), and written a poem to a girl who bore mutual witness. I read the piece at the slam, along with some other stuff I had been battling around, and ended up winning the thing.
At the time, I was a musician with lots of connections with the hip-hop scene and it was just sort of a natural evolution from there. Throughout the 90’s I wrote for urban culture magazines like YRB, and put together underground events everywhere from the Wetlands to CBGB’s. My goal at the time was to try and bring together poets, musicians, DJs, MCs, photographers, dancers – you name it. I had a weekly party called Open at Baby Jupiter, where I did exactly that. It was a good time to be a young writer and performer.
During all this, I also had some great writing mentors at NYU, like Jillian Medoff and Pearl Abraham, who helped me on my way. I am still in contact with Jillian, and she was in fact instrumental in helping me with the early drafts of Crash Course.
I’m a poet who loves performing and hates being pigeonholed. That’s probably why I went off in my own direction instead of focusing on slams and the like. I’ve always felt kind of like a lost child with that scene: too literary for some of the hip-hop heads, too street for the coffee shop crowd. But even as I’ve pulled back from the performance and slam scene to focus on recording and solo work, I still feel some degree of debt to it. In a way spoken word allowed me to bridge the gap between writing and music which are my greatest loves.
I finished and started off the millennium doing a pretty complicated juggling act of writing articles (popular, academic, corporate, you name it), organizing and participating in multimedia and theater events (DUMBO Theater Exchange, Augenblick, Wanderlust, stuff with Soulkid), and writing and recording in and with various places and people around the globe (Meitz in Berlin for example). But post 9/11, I departed in another direction.
The towers, death of my first serious relationship, and general burn out left me wanting to get out of the city. Hitting the road again, I ended up travelling South through Mexico, and began focusing on writing longer fiction and poetry once more. The end result of that was Malas Ondas (TFG Press, 2003), and it’s subsequently chaotic tour (my mother died one week after its release). What followed, with trying to sort my parents’ lives, disastrous relationships, and an ill-advised jaunt off to Asia for most of 2006, provided much of the inspiration for writing Crash Course. In a way it provided me an outlet for sorting out the mess of my existence in those years.
The last few years, have afforded me the opportunity to turn those experiences into both a novel and Original Soundtrack which I’m about to hit the road with once more (in the case of the album we’ve already started playin it out). All and all I’ve been lucky (and starved through all of my teens and twenties for anyone wanting to get jealous). After the tour I plan on starting another novel, album, and to dust off some neglected poetry collections. You gotta keep movin if you don’t wanna drown…
So then, the answer to the titular question of why I write is ultimately because I have to. I love it often, hate it sometimes, and need it always. Exploring and exorcizing my demons, then caging them in paper has always seemed to best way to stay sane. Well that’s the theory anyhow…
Kent Evans is the author of Malas Ondas: Lime, Sand Sex and Salsa in the land of conquistadors, a semi-autobiographical novel about selfdestruction throughout Latin America and finding that corniest of motivators – love. He was a fixture on the spoken word and experimental art scene throughout the 90’s, and the internationally acclaimed artist has performed at such venues as the Festival Internacional Cervantino, Madison Square Garden Theater, Acadamie Beaux Arts in Paris and Nuvorican Poets Café in Greenwich Village.
Kent has appeared on NPR for shows including Nuestra Palabra, the Front Row, and Living Arts showcase. His creative non-fiction and opinion pieces have appeared in numerous national pop-culture and literary zines and publications.
His forthcoming novel A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots releases September 17, 2012 from Pangea Books.
Half Cantonese and half UK, Kent was born in New York City in 1975 and grew up between New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. He graduated in psychology and dramatic literature from New York University, and began traveling extensively throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. He fully expects to answer that “but where are you really from” question the rest of his life.