One of the authors of Saturday’s Local Authors Forum in Salinas circles back to his hometown
Walter Ryce, MC Weekly, April 2013
Poet and Salinas native James B. Golden is the author of three poetry books – Sweet Potato Pie Underneath The Sun’s Broiler, Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain, and The Inside Of An Orange. In 2012 he won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry (for Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain) and the Salinas Champions Award for his literary successes and “outstanding service to the community.” This Saturday, 1-3pm, he and seven other local authors convene at John Steinbeck Public Library for the Local Authors Forum, where he will also be bestowed Poet Laureate of Salinas by Mayor Joe Gunter. Golden conducted an interview with the Weekly in advance of the event.
What got you writing?
I fell in love with words as a Senior AP English student at [North Salinas High School] under the wonderful teachings of Mrs. Elizabeth Birkeland. I had the opportunity to read the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. After my stint in high school, I had the most amazing exposure to literary giants as an English Major at Cal State Northridge. Those two periods combined allowed me to hone my writing skills and gave me the depth I needed to write with passion.
How does Salinas, as a place and culture, influence your writing?
I am a big fan of John Steinbeck. I love the way he used words to convey the angst and brilliance of our small town. I believe that the people, more than anything, have inspired me to write better. The fields, the proximity to the water, and the historical legacy of this magical city continues to give pulse my poems.
Do you have an audience in mind when you write? A specific person?
Each of my three books has had a specific audience in mind. My first book, Sweet Potato Pie Underneath The Sun’s Broiler, was written directly to young Black men. It was my gift to them. Afro Clouds & Nappy Rain was written for a large majority of people who don’t have a clear understanding of young men of color in the judicial system. The Inside of an Orange was written for all the people who have inspired me throughout my career, including musicians, children, the teens I perform for around the country, and those who need to be inspired. Every single poem that I write is purposeful, usually for someone in particular, and always has the objective to motivate others to be their best selves.
How do you feel about being named Salinas Poet Laureate?
I am breathless. This is a historical moment in time – certainly the most significant moment in my career. I’m even more excited that I am the inaugural Poet Laureate for the city. I’ve sought connection to John Steinbeck for so many years (I’ve always considered him Salinas’ muse), and now I have the opportunity to shine a light on a wonderful city in a similar fashion. Anywhere that I go around the country, I always speak of Salinas, and the impact that it’s had on my development as a writer/scholar. I’m excited for this community, and to represent Salinas as a man of color means that all the young Black and Brown kids growing up hopeless have the opportunity to see themselves as an intricate artist.
What’s the writing life like for you in terms of the schedule, process, work and fun?
The writing life is never-ending, daunting, at times lonely, and in other [times] a pot of gumbo. The schedule is intense. I’m always performing, lecturing to students, or traveling. One would [think] that travel is fun, but it’s also hard work, and it’s very difficult for me to be away from home for long periods. I do, however, enjoy meeting other poets and fans. There’s a majesty that exists within the writing community, and every time that I have the opportunity to taste it, I am pleased. The process of writing is very emotional initially. It has the ability to completely alter my mood. Then, it gets very technical, and I’m a heavy editor, so I spend the most hours editing my work and making a good poem better.
What do you get out of public events like the Local Authors Forum? What surprises you about your readers?
I love public events – it’s where I feel at home most. The connection that I get with fans and readers is unparalleled. I am most surprised at the number of people who have read all of my books and can recite certain poems verbatim. I always take requests, and find joy in reading poems I haven’t performed in years at the request of a fan.
What will you say during the event? What will you read/recite?
During the event, I will work to inspire artists and readers to live their best lives. I will also possibly perform a poem I wrote to mark the sad occasion of the Boston Bombing earlier this month. I’ve also written the poem which will stand as the official poem for the City of Salinas. It’s called “Wave to Salinas,” and it represents the very best of this incredible town.
Are there extra challenges in being a person of color in your writing career? Extra responsibilities?
The challenge of being Black, male, and poet is that there is a need to constantly ensure that my writing is in the benefit of my people. I love being Black, even American, and I want my words to touch everyone; for love, hope, grief, honor, and pain are universal. I also know beyond any doubt that I stand on the shoulders of the greatest writers to ever pick up a pen: Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, June Jordan, Rita Dove, and James Baldwin. Above all, my parents James and Valerie Golden instilled the values of cultural pride in me early on, as I watched them pace the streets of Salinas to fight for civil rights. It was their presence in this community, combined with my faith, that led me to acknowledge my responsibility as a Black male poet.
Anything else you would like to say about writing (and reading) in general, or the event in particular?
I’m very excited to come back to Salinas to read, but most importantly, to inspire someone the way that I was as a youngster in Salinas. I am so grateful to the City of Salinas, and the Salinas Public Library for trusting me to be a drum major for writing. We are hope. We are inspiration. We are poets.