Among her other literary distinctions, Akua Lezli Hope won a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a Ragdale U. S.-Africa Fellowship. She has twice won an Artists Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts (1987, 2003).
As a performer and speaker, she has given over 100 readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, restaurants and bars.Her artistic background includes music as both a vocalist and a saxophone player, and hand paper-making, as well as sculpture and glasswork. In 2005, she became a paraplegic from transverse myelitis, a rare idiopathic auto-immune disease, and is currently developing a paratransit nonprofit so that she and others may get around in her small town.
We’re honored to have her as a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, where she is also an active volunteer who happily shares her verse, ideas, and perspective with us, and she recently took time out generously to answer a few questions for SPECPO and our readers:
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer? What was one of the hardest things for you to learn?
I always created with words, from before I was literate. The first born of the third generation on my mother’s side, the third of the the third generation in on my father’s, I was always around adults who spoke to me, told me stories, taught me songs. I dictated my first poems to my mother who wrote them and read them back to me. The most difficult thing for me to learn was to overcome my impatience — impatience with accomplishing an envisioned effect or evocation.
It depends on the reader. I possess a multiplicity of identities, some of which remain unintegrated and I write from those many selves.
What’s been your family’s response to your path as a writer?
Who do you look up to as your literary heroes and heroines?
There are so many writers I admire and each era of my journey there are new ones — Derek Walcott, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Anna Ahkmatova, Pablo Neruda, Osip Mandlestam, Czeslaw Milosv, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, Robert Hayden, Madeline L’Engle, Philip K. Dick, Emily Dickinson, Audre Lorde, Ursula LeGuin, Louis May Alcott, Neil Gaiman,come to mind, but if I write this tomorrow, I’ll have another list.
What was the impetus for Them Gone?
The need to bear witness to my people and their unsung lives of determination, diligence and quiet heroism. All four of my grandparents came to America, developed businesses, raised children, sent some to war, sent some to college. All their children were literate and eloquent, as they were. They gave me a feather nest and wings of love and understanding. I didn’t see this depicted in the over culture so I wanted to do some praise singing and thanksgiving for the heartache and the backbreaking they went through, that I and my siblings and cousins could be.
Do you have any poetry projects you really hope to take on in the next few years?
Yes. I won’t elucidate because I’m a bit superstitious about announcing what is not yet done. I have 4 chapbooks making the rounds —Being Here, Health Care, Papermaking and shifting titled one of speculative poetry and there’s a fourth one I wanted to self publish as an E-book on Crocheting but I can’t afford the cost of poetry encoding.
What’s your favorite music to listen to as you write?
That varies a lot. It depends on my mood and what I’m writing. I studied the violin, cello and bassoon, sang in several youth choirs and graduated form a music program in high school. After grad school I bought a tenor sax and took lessons. In adulthood I took voice lessons and engaged an Italian tutor so I could sing my favorite arias. I was a dj in college and in grad school and have accumulated more than 3,000 records, and hundreds of CDs. Most of these are jazz.
If you could have any creature, fantastic or real, for a traveling companion, what would it be?
I don’t want a creature, who if fully endowed, would have it’s own multi-sensate journey and paths to follow. I remember in a Delaney book how some guys went hunting and shot these bird things and shot was actually a sensory harpoon, so they were hooked to them and went on the creatures journey, felling what they felt. Ah! yes in Avatar, the sensate braid, plugged you into the horse and the bird. So I want the ability to travel and connect in that way, to plug into the greater realm, beyond the limits of my singular physicality.
Coffee or Tea?
Neither. I can’t do caffeine anymore. I make my own boiled water concoctions of chopped ginger, leaves from the yard when they grow, cinnamon sticks, cloves, sometimes ginseng, sometimes apple cider, squeezed citrus, juicerator-ed carrots, apples, beets.
Duty, purpose, that’s why I’m here, history, serving the ancestors. So many strived and died for me to be here, so the least I can do, is persist and write.
What’s your advice for beginning writers who want to write poetry?
Read and write, then read some more and write some more, daily. Our technology has made both so easy, so much easier than it ever has been to access books, information, instruction and example. It is so easy to encode and record one’s arrangements of words and thoughts.