Mel Bentley with Alex Smith

Mel Bentley and Alex Smith
Mel Bentley and Alex Smith

 

This interview between Mel Bentley and Alex Smith is part of the Housework at Chapterhouse series, a conversation between friends and with the history of this space. Housework is work undervalued, invisible, unpaid. It is classed, raced and gendered. It is also the work that allows life, it is “reproductive.” It is intimate. It’s necessary. It’s weird. It has been precarious. This is the kind of work we want to recognize.

Chapter and Verse was a series by Ryan Eckes and Stan Mir that ran for nine years at Chapterhouse and supported young writers and established voices. It supported us. There was something expansive and generous about this room that operated outside funding and institutions. We want to keep and expand that spirit. The transcription of this conversation was completed by Colette Arand.


Mel Bentley: So this is the second interview I’m conducting at Wexler Studio at Penn in the Kelly Writers’ House as a supplement to the Housework at Chapterhouse reading series. And today, I have the great honor of talking with Alex Smith, who has done a lot of work and been doing a lot of things in Philly organizing and writing and has just been a big presence in West Philly for a long time, and we get to have a conversation about his work and influences and some of the things that come up in his work today. So hi.

Alex Smith: Hey.

MB: Is there anything you want to say opening the conversation?

AS: No, not really. I’m a little bit, a touch under the weather, so there might be a little throat clearing here and there. But no, I’m not sure.

MB: Let’s just start out talking about some of the things that you’ve done and participated in. You seem to have a great talent for collaboration. You were one of the founding members of METROPOLARITY, you’ve worked with Jacob Mazer, who is an illustrator, to do BELIEVERS, you have several zines,  A R K D U S T  1 and 2, one of your stories Soft Targets” was in the Stories for Chip compellation, and you’re also working on something with Eric Ruin now, is that correct?

AS: Yeah. The story that’s in Stories for Chip, it’s an anthology for Samuel Delany. It’s a homage to him, a celebration of his work, his style, his creativity. He’s a black, gay man from, I think, originally New York, and he spent some time in Philadelphia, taught at Temple, won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, which are the top science fiction awards. He’s just one of the great living writers of our time, and definitely one of the best science fiction writers of all time. Rosarium Publishing did a anthology dedicated to him, and I was lucky enough to be included in it. Actually, the story is called Clones,” and it used to be in a zine I did called A R K D U S T. But I shaped it to be published and they really liked it a lot. It’s been an interesting experience.

MB: Would you say that Chip was a huge influence on your writing?

AS: He was probably the biggest as far as straight up literary writers go. He’s probably the biggest influence on the way I construct sentences, the way I build worlds, and just ideas, and just being a black gay man and right in the throes of science fiction right there, smashing down barriers and stuff like that. He’s probably the number one influence on my writing that I take directly from literary writers, so definitely.

MB: Outside of literary writers—

AS: It’s actually kind of embarrassing, because—

MB: What do you mean?

AS: I don’t know—I’m in this band that’s called Solarized, and the name of the band is actually lifted from a Samuel Delany book. He’s just all over my writing, and it’s really weird sometimes to read my own stuff back and I’m just like, ehh, but no one ever catches it. It’s kind of like—one of my favorite rap groups is Company Flow, and they were really popular in the 90s. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. But it’s like basically, Company Flow was copying EPMD in their own special way, and it filtered out that they created their own sound even though they were basically copying one of their favorite rap bands. And I think I do the same thing with Samuel Delany—I pretty much owe a lot to the way that he writes, but I think I’ve developed my own voice. It’s not like I’m totally just ripping him off, but it feels that way sometimes.

MB: I think that there’s something similar about like the density of how fast things happen that is similar in both of your work, but I also was associating it with comics a little bit and also potentially being somewhat similar to the way a screenwriter might write, where you’re saying this happens and then that happens. But you’re not saying this happens and then that happens—it’s like there’s an event and then there’s another event.

AS: I’ve dabbled in a little bit of screenwriting—haven’t done a lot; it’s one of a few things that I’ve yet to complete. I have a bunch of screenplays that are just in the gestation period, or they’re still on act one and a half or something like that. But I think comics are probably my biggest influence as far as being a writer. A lot of what I write is going to probably read like a more cinematic graphic novel or comic book. Just discovering Marvel and DC Comics as a kid was just unbelievable. It was just dropping me into this entire other universe, multiverse, realm of thinking. A lot of people say that they changed the way they thought because they had a religious experience—they found zen Buddhism, or they got really low and they came to Christ. Someone left a Bascunan or Emma Goldman book on the bus and they read it in seventh grade and it changed their life, but for me, comics was that trigger to take me into a different way of thinking about living in the world.

MB: How would you say that comic books changed your way of thinking about living? It’s clear how it comes back into your writing.

AS: The idea that you could create your own universe—you can change yourself, you can experience new things, you can go to different worlds, and you can visualize things. The way that I visualize things now, even just sitting in this room and not necessarily just, from a writing perspective, but just being able to see things in the framework of how a comic book reads. Those are just things that come naturally to me, because of how I read comics. I’ve never been one of those guys that was like, oh, I love Spiderman, I’ve got to read all 100 Spiderman comic books that came out this month, but I’ve mostly been someone who was like, what is happening in this world, and why is it interesting, and how does it speak to me in the real world? How is the writer writing? Is there some kind of open space? Is there darkness? Is there weirdness? Those things that comic books represented to me when I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, those are powerful, impactful things. Translating that stuff to the real world really helped me have a different kind of vision for the world. And the characters themselves—they’re kind of anarchic, they’re weird, they’re vigilantes. I always say that the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party—they were like actual superheroes. They took it upon themselves to use the powers that they had to create a different world for themselves and that really speaks a lot to me.

MB: And it’s really interesting to see how your characters have both a reality that feels very familiar in the sense that it’s not polished, that your stories often take place in West Philly, and it’s interesting to see how they relate to some of the actual forces that are around West Philly and then are also having supernatural experiences at the same time. And that combination feels especially powerful because there’s so much, I think, straining to imagine what could possibly happen at this point, just because of a lot of the pressures that are converging.

AS: We’re faced with an uncertain future right now. A lot of the things that we do are kind of magical things that we do as artists, especially artists with radical intentions. We’re creating magic. We’re creating a language for a world that we want to see, a vision for ourselves into the future. A day in the life walking down a street in Philadelphia is definitely a weird, magical, sometimes transcendental, sometimes just plain, flat out bizarre kind of thing. Why not Philadelphia, you know? Why not West Philly? It makes sense to me in so many different ways because, you know, there’s a deep, rich history of futurism and visionary sort of ways of describing the world. I don’t think it’s alien at all for weird stuff to go down in West Philly. Why not? Why not people of color? Why not queer people? Why not people that live and exist in the world? Why not center us in the story? And that’s where my writing has taken me. When I first got into comics, I was trying to do my own—the characters that I drew were white and they all were doctors, and they all lived in Manhattan, just because that’s how it is in Marvel Comics and you grow up thinking along those lines. When I started to marry all of these different worlds that I was involved in—like a lot of pro-black activism, I’ve always been involved in so many different things at one time—and finally comics and my writing and science fiction walked into the door to meet all of my other worlds. I was involved in the DJ scene and the hip hop community and pro-black activism and the queer community and punk rock and all these things that were really radicalized. And then science fiction was always with me. Comics and sci-fi have always been with me. Then something just struck me and it was like this part of me needs to be where these other parts are. It already is, and it already informs how I look at these other parts, but now I need to write characters that are black and queer and mean more to me in spiritual way. So that’s how that evolved to that.

MB: And I think when you were hosting Laser Life, which was a queer sci-fi reading series in West Philly, that seemed explicitly your thesis. It was like, we need to imagine a future for ourselves. We need to write our stories, we need to tell our stories because they’ve been erased and we don’t have them. And so that seemed like something that—it needed, like you said, some extra reinforcement and support for it to be able to happen, but it also seemed like a moment where a lot of people needed or wanted to do that.

AS: And it’s interesting now because you probably won’t find my name in the annals of queer sci-fi history or whatever. Maybe, maybe not. But I feel like what we did with Laser Life really sort of helped people get to that place, and they’ve gone on and done their other things, and there’s a lot of different movements all around the country. I know that planting that seed of Laser Life definitely helped people to understand that they could be a part of this ongoing story, that they can exist in the future, and they don’t have to be the background characters peppering the scene. I always mention, if you always watch a dystopian or future movie, there’s always a scene in the bazaar, like there’s a street and it’s filled with people selling stuff, aliens, that’s usually where you find all the weirdoes, the queers, the people of color, and then there’s a white dude walking through that bazaar in a trench coat and he’s got his head down, and everything is affecting him. It’s this really staunch metaphor for this white male xenophobia thing. I was like, I don’t want to watch a story about this guy. I don’t care about Han Solo. It’s weird because Harrison Ford plays a lot of these kinds of guys, and I was like, I don’t care about the Harrison Ford character. I want to know about all these other people around him. He’s trying to steal whatever these crystals that have all this power. I want to know about the people who have lived with this crystal for hundreds and thousands of years, you know what I mean? Those kinds of things. Just the very idea that the white, heterosexual male is the everyman, and we all sort of exist to further his tory. That really angered me. I was just like, what about the rest of us? There’s so many different kinds of people all over the world, right here in Philadelphia. We decided to do a reading, and I think it went pretty well.

MB: Did Metropolarity come out of that, do you think, or how did you meet those folks?

AS: So there’s four of us. There’s me, Ras Mashramani—they had the idea to galvanize all of us that were doing similar things in these different little pockets. Maggie Eighteen who does cyborg memoirs, which was a sort of queer and cyborg and dystopia tales, but done in their really unique way that plays off anime tropes and ideas and just what happens after the battle. I always thought that that was kind of interesting. And of course, Rasheedah Phillips, who is the co-founder of AfroFuturist Affair, Black Quantum Futurism, Community Futures Lab, and on and on and on. Rasheedah has really gone into another stratosphere. And we all started—we were all doing these different things, and it was just like—why not just hang out and put out a zine or a book or something like that, and then it just  grew from there. Yeah, it’s been really awesome. I met Eighteen through a listserv, the A Space listserv, because I was going to do Laser Life and I was like, I need to find someone else to read with me. Can’t just be me any my boyfriend and someone else, and my other friend. Eighteen responded and we clicked right away. It was just magical. The next one, Ras came on. Eighteen was like, my friend Ras wants to read, and I was like, sure. After that, Ras was like, my friend Rasheedah wants to read. So then Rasheedah was the featured reader, and since then we’ve all been the featured readers at Laser Life. And I think that was the nexus point for all of us getting together and doing Metropolarity.

MB: And you all make a lot of stuff but you continue to make stuff together as well as with wider groups of collaborators?

AS: Because we’re all in different places in our creativity and our writing right now. Like I said, Rasheedah is definitely super hyper busy and crazy vigilant and really doing a lot with Black Quantum Futurism and her partner in that, Camae Defstar is also doing a lot as Moor Mother. We’re all at different levels right now. I had a few personal setbacks, so I haven’t been able to do a lot, but we just collaborated on APIARY’s sort of sci-fi-ish issue, called Soft Targets. That was a lot of fun and it reminded me of our power as a unit. We did workshops for it as well, and that was really liberating. We wanted to find writers that could relate their experiences in a more holistic and visionary kind of way, and I think we did. I think we accomplished it. You can get Soft Targets—it’s free, it’s floating around Philly.

MB: I have a copy or two, yeah. I was definitely very aware while it was in development and while it was happening. I love that one of the defining elements of the way that you are creative usually includes wra other people and supporting the development of their creative process, which I think is fairly unique. And you also, like you said, do so many things. You write, you DJ, you have an interest in fashion, right?

AS: Yeah, I sometimes think if I could just narrow it down to two things, then I could be a superstar, but I guess there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to be a superstar, that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into this one thing. If someone like Hugh Jackman or Jake Gyllenhaal tried to start a band, people would be like no, we’re not listening to that crap, just stick to acting. It’s the whole idea about staying in your lane, what’s your lane? How wide is the lane itself?

MB: Or maybe your lane is not defined by a kind of set of activities because I think you obviously have your lane, but it manifests in so many different ways.

AS: It’s more of a spiritual connection to the same sort of idea, and they’re all spiritually connected to each other. It doesn’t have to be that I am a guitarist, I will just play guitar in punk bands for the rest of my life. No, it’s more about what is your overall thematic relationship to your own life and to the lives of people around you, and how are you going to express that? For me, it manifests itself in many different ways, and that’s really powerful. I like collaborating, and I like bigging up people and I like the sense of community. That’s extremely important to me. I just want other people to succeed as well. That sounds really simplistic, but there’s no other real way to put that.

MB: It strikes me as similar perhaps to the idea that the reason why art may have originally developed was as a sense of recording community experience, and now art can often be cut off from those kind of things. We’ve come to accept art as something that we receive, but I love the idea that other people can access it, but it is primarily for the community and out of that community that it comes from and it also can manifest as a party or a show, or a reading or a book.

AS: Or all of those things at the same exact time. That’s what Laser Life kind of is, and Chrome City and all these other things that I’ve tried to do. Just do it all and have it be—you know, there’s continuity and relationships to what you’re doing—has to have a sort of spiritual and community grounding or it’s just, like you’re alluding to, a product that’s something that we go and witness and then we go home and watch Netflix and eat a Kale salad. But we have to be able to have these things as a part of our lives. What do you do? Well, I do this, and everyone is like, when they say what do you do, it’s like, I work in sales. It’s like yeah, but what do you do? What makes you this kinetic figure in the world? That’s very important to me. Like you said, back in the day, it was a tribal thing. It was a communal thing. Everyone bring your drums, or build a drum.

MB: Or just show up and see what happens, right?

AS: Exactly. We live in a superkinetic, while kind of digitized world. We can’t always be spontaneous all the time, but we can call back to that spirit and use that to create a new language.

MB: Who else in Philly would you say—I mean, it doesn’t even have to be Philly specific, but who else would you say has been influential to how you think and how you make art?

AS: The list is pretty long.

MB: We’ve talked about your direct community and a little bit of that as Chip as a potential predecessor in some ways, but are there other people who are influences?

AS: I would say the Black Panther Party. Most of my influences I got when I was really young and stuck with me. I would read my mother’s—and my mom is definitely an influence—but I would read my mom’s black history encyclopedias cover to cover, from Africa to now, and something would always grab me about what was happening in the 60s. Starting with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and moving all the way up to the Black Liberation Army. That era just was so romantic and wild and interesting. They went from just a few decades removed from slavery to essentially being these futurist superhero demigods. What happened? And everything about that whole era is just super—it’s just amazing to me. I mean, the visuals. You can see it, if you look at A R K D U S T, it looks like the Black Panther newsletters, hugely an influence of that. Everything about them. And then the idea—they were interesting visually, and they were also real about it. This marriage of aesthetics and being totally grounded and totally in your community and totally revolutionary and radical and all these other things that we value on this one level, but then also completely weird and psychedelic and strange. Giant afros and sunglasses and picks in their hair and sitting in wicker chairs with two shotguns. Everything about them visually and artistically and aesthetically was just magnetic to me. That’s always been a huge influence, just the very idea. And the very idea that they can exist in a world that absolutely hates black people. They just existed, and they were like, we are going to exist in the exact same capacity that we prescribe for ourselves, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

As Fred Hampton would say, you can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution. You can kill the person but you can’t kill the spirit. That concept has always been very empowering to me. If ever I’m feeling down and not validated, I always think oh well, Lorenzo Kom’Boa Ervin hijacked a plane to get away from the feds. So I think what I’m doing is a little bit—I can deal. That era of radicalism definitely has been a huge influence on me. I would also say black speculative ficton is more of an influence on me. I don’t read Asimov and Heinlein and H.G. Wells and all these, Lovecraft and all these borderline racist dudes—I don’t read a lot of straight white dudes. So whenever people try to talk to me after a show or after a reading, they’re like yeah, your writing reminds me of this Philip K. Dick novel I read. I’ve read one Philip K. Dick novel and it was for a class and it’s just kind of like, I’m out of that conversation. If you want to talk to me about black speculative fiction, we can go there—the Toni Morrisons, the Percival Everetts, you know, Coleson Whitehead, Victor Lavelle. These are the people that I read as a teenager up until my early 20s trying to figure things out. Like Ralph Ellison, those guys, those are the people that captured my imagination. Ismael Reed especially, I read plenty of his books. That informed how I became a writer as well. Way more so than Ray Bradbury—I couldn’t tell you anything about that stuff, you know? Which is like, I don’t know—I wasn’t reflected in it.

MB: Right. And it makes a lot of sense. Why would, I think a lot of people get caught up in not realizing that they’re consuming art that does not value them and that can have a poisonous effect. It can also be potentially useful if you’re able to de-nature it in some way or turn it around, but I think for a long time I definitely read art without realizing that it was directly counter to my existence in a lot of ways.

AS: Exactly, right.

MB: I was wondering specifically about Sun Ra. Did you know about him growing up?

AS: Yeah, Sun Ra is really awesome to me. Less of a direct influence and more of a figure that came a little bit later in my mental progress, I think. He was more like a validation for me. I was really into hardcore and punk rock when I found Sun Ra, and it was more like, I felt really weird being the only queer and the only black person at a show and being alienated on these two different intersections. And it would be also weird because it would be a show that I booked, you know? So I’m hyper participatory in this scene as a musician, as an artist, as a zine-maker, as an interviewer, as a promoter and curator, and I’m getting this crazy pushback from these white dudes. Why am I doing this? Discovering the avant-garde jazz movement was definitely a huge reminder that this is why I’m doing this. It’s ok to be black and weird and to have these sort of intersections meet. You can marry your weird sci-fi, I-want-to-dress-crazy aesthetic with music and with art. And it’s also funny because Sun Ra was—a lot of things that the DIY community take for granted—Sun Ra invented. He pressed his own records, he booked his own tours, the Arkestra lived in a collective house. They did all this stuff before Crass and all those peace punk bands took that from jazz and reggae. It’s just interesting that no one ever really talks about this because it’s safe and comfortable to erase black people from the conversation because you don’t have to—you can talk about the DIY movement without discussing slavery, genocide, and Jim Crow if you erase black people from the equation. That’s how I think Sun Ra, like I’m connected to Sun Ra. His music is awesome and he came a little bit later in my life as a sort of validation for what I was already doing, I think.

MB: And something that shows up part of definitely everything that you’ve been talking about, but something that also shows up is class quite a bit. Everybody in your stories has a job or is struggling to get by or is worried about money and that felt on some level deeply relaxing to me that I didn’t realize that I had—because in literature often, and in art often, the makers are from an economically privileged position, and although they might try, they don’t reflect class realities very well.

AS: They’re either economically or socially privileged. Like a lot of writers like to write about writers. I guess that’s their experience, but it’s also just weird and way too meta for me, to be a writer writing about this writer. It’s just weird, man. I really wish writers would stop having writers as their central characters. Just don’t do it anymore. I’m just over it. I don’t know why. It just bothers me because it’s self-serving and strange. Writers have a lot of social capital and they can get into places. It’s just easy. If you notice all the sitcoms in the 80s, everyone was rich. They all had money, and that again goes back to erasure. If all your characters have means, then you can just talk about the thing that you want to talk about, like the dragon that’s coming to kill people. You don’t have to talk about the weight of economic depression, you don’t have to talk about the weight of racism or transphobia if your character is a straight white male and he’s rich and has social capital. And for me, it’s just more interesting to write about baristas and waiters and delivery guys and bike messengers. It’s just more interesting, like the guy that’s taking tickets at the show. It just seems more—there’s connectivity there that makes sense to me.

MB: I guess we’ve sort of talked about this, but what role do you think writing serves for you? Why do you do it? Why did you begin to do it and why do you keep doing it?

AS: It’s the number one thing that I can do, and if you’re a writer, you have both no budget and an unlimited budget. If you’re trying to make a film, there’s going to be writing in the film, so you’re already writing. But if you’re going to make a film, then you need to get investors and producers, you have to call a light guy, a sound guy, you’ve got to hire the actors, and maybe the actors aren’t—you know what I mean? So there’s a lot of capital that you need there. But if you’re a writer—

MB: You’ve got a pen.

AS: Right. You’re good. You know what I mean? That’s all you need. Your budget is unlimited, and you can really write some really powerful stuff and get right to doing it. It’s just—you just do it. And that’s been my whole sort of process in general. What can you do with the most minimal means? Because I don’t have any money. That’s why I think I’ll continue to write. Writing stories is kind of new. I come from another scene that I was involved in, the poetry scene. Reading poetry just became rote. It just became a habit and less fun. There’s all these ways that you can write that will get a reaction from someone. It just became—and then there’s the whole slam movement where it’s a competitive thing, and it just became less—my writing just was not able to contain itself within the poetry community. I experimented with slightly longer form stuff. But at the same time, and you mentioned this earlier, a lot of my writing seems to happen really fast, and I think it’s because of poetry and because I read a lot of my pieces out. So if I want to say what I have to say and want it to sound epic and big, I have to cram it into these little eight minute things. A lot of times that influence still rings true.

MB: That’s interesting, because I do think that you have a density of phrase that strikes me as poetic. I think there’s one line in particular that you said, the moon is staring at us like a reflection of our hearts? It was just really startling.

AS: I think that’s in my newer piece.

MB: The one that is set in the co-op?

AS: Oh, right. That’s the White Automaton story. That’s from A R K D U S T #2.

MB: So there’s a sense of visualness and phrasal density that seems poetic, and you also never try to convince anyone that this is spectacular. You just go about making it happen, right? The sensation of that. So it’s so interesting that you’ve moved from poetry towards fiction because fiction seems more fun. I think that one of the things that happens for most of the members of Metropolarity is that there’s also a deep seriousness and politicalness and theoretical aspect, but also a lot of fun and humor.

AS: Yeah. And I guess if there’s any flaw in some of the things I’ve been influenced by—for instance, the black radical movement— it wasn’t fun at all. We’re up against a lot of serious stuff, but I think going forward we need to also think about what will happen after the revolution, after the paradigm shift. Creating a sense of ecstasy, this ecstatic wonder of just being a person, it’s so essential, and it’s really easy to make someone feel like they’re a part of this ecstatic, holistic experience. So why not create a world that has all of these things? Why not create a world that has these deep, philosophical, political underpinnings, but also one that’s totally wild and totally anarchic, and just see where that leads you. We all experience things in a very kind of tactile way. We all wear Chuck Taylors and we all watch Seinfeld. Put that in your story. Don’t be afraid to remind people that the real world still exists. And I think that’s a really fun thing to do—and part of that is also my hip hop influence as well. It’s constantly referential and it’s constantly this meta take on what we’re visually seeing all the time. And you freestyle off of what you see in the room, like a bottle of Coke is sitting on the table, so you mention it. And it’s those things impact us, so why not discuss them in this sort of strange way?

MB: Would you be willing to read one of your stories?

AS: Okay. Sometimes they’re long, so maybe I can read a piece of it?

MB: Sure, as long as you want.

AS: Well, this is a newer story. I read it at the ICA. Thank you.

MB: Thanks. So your work can be found in several places, one of which is the Metropolarity. What is the name of the shop? Is it Store Envy?

AS: Yeah, if you just go to metropolarity.net, there’s a clickable link to a store. It’s just easier that way. Yeah.

MB: And the most recent compilation of work that’s come out from that is called Style of Attack?

AS: Yes.

MB: It has so many writers and forms and a story by you. And then I definitely encourage everybody to seek out other things as well, but that’s the easiest to find, and most recent. And A R K D U S T as well is super great.

AS: Thank you. In 2017 I’m going to do an A R K D U S T compendium. I’m not sure if I’m going to skip the third issue, I kind of want to do the third issue. But regardless, I’m going to do a compendium that takes the best stories from the A R K D U S T and from the stories that I read at Laser Life and that used to be on my blog and just give them a home, finally, and just print them myself. It’s not easy getting this kind of science fiction published. I’ve tried a few times, but it’s a little bit discouraging. A lot of these gatekeepers, a lot of these places, publishing companies that say, you know, we’re looking for diverse artists. Are you a person of color? Are you queer? Okay, here’s my story. But it’s like oh, we were looking for Ray Bradbury in blackface. It’s like, no, I’m sorry. I pull, like we’ve been talking about, I pull from many different diasporas and intersections and influences, and my stories are weird and they’re non-linear and it’s just like, you want diversity but you don’t really want diversity because if you did, you’d be publishing us all the time. And we’re not really interested right now in fitting our stories into these very academic MFA style forms of stories that people are used to, and I think that’s why maybe afrofuturism isn’t quite catching on yet, because it’s so weird and it’s just written differently. Yeah, there’s influences from poetry and there’s influences from Sun Ra. Sorry, that was my little rant.

MB: I totally agree.

AS: That’s why we self-publish, because it’s not easy for us to smash down the gates, you know?

MB: Right, and it seems like also distributing yourself gives you a lot of people who—it gives you access to the communities that you’re already involved in. Like you said, you don’t have to worry about gatekeepers at all. Why would you do anything else? It seems like given the technology that we now have, it’s easy and it gives you a lot of power and control.

AS: So true.

MB: Although still, the compensation is not great. It’s always a struggle.

AS: Right. And you need some capital to start. You can’t just print a book for free. It’s definitely a difficult road. It’s not as easy as it seems. Just put it out yourself man, don’t worry about it.

MB: It’s tons of work, but—

AS: Yeah, that’s why we do zines. They’re a lot easier. They are more fun, and you can do a lot more with them and meet more people and do more dynamic things so you don’t have to wait. We waited too long. It’s time for us to put pen to paper, cut and paste it, to Kinkos, print it up, you know? It’s just we’ve waited too long. So we have to get it out there however we can.

MB: I’m really happy, that was actually one of the questions I forgot to ask was if you would be doing a compilation of all of your own work, because it’s so spread out with so many other people’s, so I’m really happy to hear that you’re planning on collecting some of the things.

AS: That’s my main thing for 2017 is the A R K D U S T compendium and a novella.

MB: Awesome. I look forward to seeing those.

AS: Thank you.

MB: Thank you for being here.

AS: Awesome, thank you so much.


Alex Smith exists in the seams in the cloth of existence where he desperately stitches together universes with one hand and with the other, armed with a espresso tamp, makes valiant attempts to keep his lights on. Smith‘s writing was born in a confusing mire of slam poetry, house/vogue culture, and the DIY community, his work forever damaged by retro-futurist cinema and Silverhawks cartoons. This cosmic eclecticism has led to the shattering of several go-nowhere punk bands and the inevitable demise of his superstar DJ career. A member of the sci-fi artist/activist collective METROPOLARITY, the founder of the queer sci-fi reading series Laser Life, and curator of the retro-futurist electro mash-up art-jam Chrome City, Alex’s stories and writings emboldened the weird, strange, and revolutionary dichotomy of being black and queer in a world that marginalizes both. Selected by Rosarium Publishing for the anthology dedicated to the writing of Samuel Delany, Stories for Chip and for Black Quantum Futurism’s Space-Time Collapse: From the Congo to the Carolinas, it’s Smith’s flash fiction collection Gang Stalk Oprah, self-published sci-fi zine A R K D U S T and super-hero space opera comic book BELIEVERS that will kidnap you, convert you, shoot you in the leg and then set you free.

Mel Bentley organizes the reading series Housework at Chapterhouse. Their chapbook of poems called Bucolic Eclogues from a larger manuscript called Bucolic Eclogues was released from Lamehouse Press in July 2016.  Their chapbooks Obstacle, Particle, Spectacle, &parts, and Stub Wilderness were released from 89plus Luma Foundation, Damask Press and Well Greased Press, respectively. Vitrine released a tape of sounds labeled Red Green Blue.

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