An Afternoon with Khadijah Queen, Poet, Author, Associate Professor | VTX

Mark Blane: To start, let’s play a little word association game. You answer with as many words and ideas as you want. First word: Film.

Queen: I recently watched something so good, “Philomena”.

Blane: Next is: food.

Queen: I made a really explosive salad the other day.

Blane: What was in it?

Queen: Sesame seeds, raisins, carrots, cucumber and I always put seasonings in my salad like oregano, salt, pepper and basil. And I make a homemade balsamic vinaigrette with olive oil and all the seasonings.

Blane: Yum. Next word: Shopping.

Queen: I shop online. So I shopped at Target the other day.

Blane: Song.

Queen: “Magnolia” by Leon Bridges.

Blane: Adding that to my playlist now. So let’s go. I saw in your work that you like to move from one form of poetry to another, especially experimental forms. In “Anodyne”, I see poetry of erasure, I see a sestina, a monologue even, moving between them seamlessly. Movement, in general, is important to so many writers and artists. You have moved and lived everywhere. Last year, you lived and taught in Denver, but grew up in Los Angeles. You also served in the army for several years. The movement is no stranger to you, and now you are in Blacksburg.

Queen: It was an experience. It was an adjustment. I’m not adjusted yet. We often stay home because, you know, we [my family] all have a disability. But we put on our safety gear for the holidays, and I’ve been to New York twice. And I love that New York has a lot of safety practices and protocols. I have been in France since I moved here. I was in France in December. I wrote a lot there and I’m going back there this summer for a lecture by James Baldwin. I’m on a panel with Carmen Gimenez [director of Virginia Tech’s Creative Writing MFA Program] and three of my friends, and we’re just going to talk about James Baldwin in the south of France. But, yes, in Blacksburg, the mountains are pretty. I like the sky, the sunset and the sunrise. I love Eats, the organic food store.

Blane: How does motherhood influence your teaching practice, creatively and spiritually?

Queen: My son is 22, but because he has autism, I’m still his main person. He is very functional, but he needs help with daily tasks. So I give it to him now and let him do the things he likes. I think it’s just a matter of care, of infusing care into the way I teach and the way I build my classes to be resilient, because I think there’s a lot of shame around disability and especially mental health disorders. So many people don’t make room for it in their classrooms. But because it’s an area of ​​my research and a part of my life as a parent of a child with a disability, I find it easier to accommodate different ways of approaching homework. I try to build assignments in a flexible way. So if someone needs rigid expectations, they can have that, and if someone else needs a little more freedom to change their mind or shake things up, they can. . I try to create rigor around the investigation. Instead of what I like to call “false rigor”, which is ticking boxes and following 8 million instructions you can’t remember, which can be boring and frustrating. I try to meet the students where they are and ask them what interests them.

Blane: It feels like a very thoughtful and safe space.

Reine: With my son, it was a journey. He was diagnosed with a specific learning disability in third grade, then in sixth grade we discovered he had hyperlexia. When you have ADHD it may present as seeing reversed letters or you can’t pay attention, but you may also be very avid reader and your language skills are very high. My son is in the 90th percentile, and a lot of people think people with autism have speech difficulties. My son has never had this. It was difficult to get the institutions to recognize his needs, and he is not the only one to have this experience. I try to incorporate this awareness into how I structure my classes, and it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I actually think it creates a more communal classroom experience. I teach poetry and creative writing to undergraduate students. It’s a place where students can be a little anarchic. You are encouraged to practice the articulation of your intuition and your freedom of thought, which is not what we are always asked to do in this human experience, in this American experience, is it?

Blane: I think a lot of creators and storytellers would agree with that. I listened to an interview you did with Harper’s Magazine, and you talked about your inspirations writing at the start of the pandemic. You were watching YouTube videos about the 1918 pandemic and disaster movies. Then I read your contribution to Harper’s. A zuihitsu, a form of Japanese poetry. You have written about your mother, about the tragedy, about so many injustices, even about the fabric of your daily life which is tearing. What advice would you give to young writers exploring trauma in their own work?

Queen: It’s something we discussed in my non-fiction class this past semester. And one thing besides that is your approach to disclosure. Sometimes if you feel compelled to talk about a traumatic experience, because not everyone wants to share, but if you feel compelled to, you can’t say it unless you can let it all out . But then you can go back and revise it. You think about how you want to shape it based on your intent versus what you want to leave with your reader. I gave this example to my students: when I was talking to Roxane Gay about her book “Hunger”, I asked her how she decided what to leave in and what to take out, and she said if she didn’t want a traumatic thing being repeated to her by a troll on Twitter, so it didn’t make it into the book.

Blane: That’s great advice.

Queen: So you can take those things that you don’t want to echo and put them in another form. You can use metaphor to express it. You can use things you know, such as beauty, whether observed or in language, or use sound or music to help you recognize that your experience is about more than this trauma, rather than defining you. not and that you are able to imagine something different.

Blaine: Thanks for that. It’s like a mini master class right there. Free for all our readers. I noticed on Instagram that you were in New York recently to present an award.

Queen: I was a judge for the Open Book Award at the PEN American Literary Awards. Seth Meyers was the host. He called it “the Oscars of books”. My co-editor K. Ibura accompanied me. We have just finished this new multi-genre speculative anthology which will be released next year.

Blane: I have to mention your book which just turned 5, “I’m So Fine”. It’s about your encounters with celebrities (some are with relatives and friends), as well as an extremely important detail – a description of what you were wearing. It’s so awesome. I am so grateful to have been able to bear witness to your vulnerable testimony. I gasped, I laughed, I cried. I felt immersed in every experience and memory.

Queen: I’m so happy every time people tell me they liked this book. It was both the most fun to write and the hardest to publish. All of the #MeToo stuff happened about seven months after it was posted, so it didn’t gain traction at first. And it was rejected for years. But every time I read it out loud at events, it was such a hit. I knew I had to persist, and what a gift to know that the immersive experience of writing resonates with the experience of reading. Thanks for spending time with him.

Blane: My last question: Do you believe in magic?

Queen: That’s a complicated question. … I believe in imagination. I believe that we can use our imagination powerfully, infinitely, in that even in our attempts to meet our imagination, even if it seems to be unsuccessful, we still learn something and push our imagination further.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lola R. McClure