Featured Writer of the Month

Kenneth Carroll, Director of D. C. WritersCorps

"The challenge is to be smart enough to know that you don't have all the answers but the artists may."

Kenneth Carroll is the Director of D. C. WritersCorps, a program that brings writers into schools. His team of writers work with middle school children in D. C. Public Schools to teach creative writing and to coach poetry slam teams. Carroll is a writer, poet, playwright and teacher of literature at Duke Ellington High School for the Arts in Washington, DC. He is the author of So What: For the White Dude Who Said This Aint Poetry (Bunny & The Crocodile Press, 1997) and is currently working on his first novel and on his second book of poetry entitled Jive Eschatology. In the opinion of this interviewer, he is destined to become the next Langston Hughes. Below follows a Q & A Discussion with Carroll.

Q: What book has most influenced you as a writer?
A: Most influential book is Black Fire, the 1968 Black Literary Anthology, edited by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal.

Q: Whose work do you admire?
A: Some of the people are: Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Tom Waits, Gil Scott Heron, Ernest Gaines, Shakespeare, Moliere, Walt Whitman, Lucille Clifton, Brian Gilmore, Crystal Williams, DJ Renegade, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Jeffrey McDaniel, Reuben Jackson, Gaston Neal, etc.

Q: How and why did you get involved with D.C. WritersCorps?
A: I was asked to be the coordinator by Carolyn Forche' who hired me because of my knowledge of D. C. writers and the D. C. social community. I got involved because of my belief in the principles of the Black Arts Movement that black writers must create work that is relevant and functional and that black writers should be a part of making social change.

Q: What are the challenges of managing a group of writers/artists as opposed to working with "normal" people?
A: Artists, especially writers, aren't as sheep-like as most workers. You tell them shut up and they think you mean stand up. The challenge is to be smart enough to know that you don't have all the answers but the artists may.

Q: What are the challenges of the classroom? What has surprised you about being a teacher?
A: The challenge of the classroom is primarily preparation. Students know when you're winging it and they don't respect that. Preparation and a clear knowledge of your subject matter and the goals and outcomes associated with every exercise will help keep the class from descending into chaos. Only kind of of surprise I've had has been the intelligence level of the students. When given the opportunity, they are able, despite the horrendous job being done in public schools, to think cogently, adroitly, and with a clarity often lacking in their teachers.

Q: What's your writing process? What are you currently working on?
A: I have no process. Like the earth my writing emerges from chaos. I write when I can and only when excited. Unless I'm on a freelance assignment, I don't worry about deadlines. Good writing is not about fads, so if I don't create the great novel until I'm fifty or sixty it won't bother me. I'm working on a novel about (of course) D. C. racial, sexual, and class/caste politics. I guarantee they'll be no drug dealers in the story.

Q: What advice to you have for aspiring writers?
A: Read, write, read, edit, read, revise, read, trash that project, read, write, party with your friends, read, write, love your family, read, write, edit, revise, work in the community, read, edit, get published, attend readings, save your rejection letters, read, write, edit, revise, live!