interview with STEVEN FULLWOOD
this week i had a chance to chat with steven fullwood. check him out.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised (razed?) in Toledo, Ohio, the third of five kids, the first of two boys, the middle child (yeah) to a Louisiana farm boy and Midwestern would-be singer. My last name Fullwood comes from a type of tree in Europe. It apparently became a surname in the 12th Century after some Lord in Warwickshire named his second son “de Fullwood” after land that was acquired from some other Lord guy.
My hometown, Toledo, elicits a type of perspective that has always baffled me: “Yeah, it’s racist and homophobic, but it’s a great place to raise children.” I guess so if those kids don’t have the misfortune of being black or homo, two things that were allegedly describes me and/or a way of life, which, of course, are two attributes, like any other, which cannot ever tell you the complete truth about anyone.
From Toledo to Atlanta to attend graduate school, to DC and then back to Atlanta, and finally to New York, specifically Harlem in order to break open my Midwesterness for the world to see—this has been my geographical life, in a nutshell.
2. If you had to choose to live on another continent which one would you choose?
Hmm, at this point I’d have to say Europe. I have a yen for castles and the Gothic era. There’s something about haunting a castle that appeals to me. My psychic told me that I was killed in one of my past live. I was a knight who was beheaded in battle. Ouch.
3. How long have you been working at the Schomburg?
I’ve been an archivist at the Schomburg since February 1998, and it’s been my favorite job by far. Before this, I was a children’s librarian in Toledo. One of the things I learned from that experience is that public schools are a joke and that access to information is a political act. When you consider that enslaved black folks were forbidden to read, that public schools are in such a state, and that libraries are free and open to the public there’s great opportunity for librarians to make a difference with a well-stocked library, with programming that engages and respects our little people, and with a resolute political sensibility to demand and fight for local, state and federal funding that impacts everything libraries should stand for: free access to information.
I left for library school and developed an appreciation for preserving the historical record due to several experiences. In 1996 I was awarded a fellowship at the Library of Congress to aid in the processing of the NAACP Records. Later that year, while pursuing my Masters in Library and Information Science at Clark Atlanta University, I worked as a library assistant at the Atlanta University Center and help process the papers of the College Language Association, the oldest black professional organization of college teachers of English and Foreign Language. That was blast. I concurrently completed an internship at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History (Atlanta) which cemented for me how much I enjoyed being a library (the books!) and specifically, as an archivist.
Well, to be honest, I would have worked as anything after graduate school. All I was concerned with was getting my yellow-ass to New York to be with my best friend, Carla and godson, Andre. We had all lived together in Toledo and she moved to New York in 1995, and I left for Atlanta in 1996. Atlanta wasn’t really my cup of tea so I left after I finished the program. I set my heart and beady little eyes on the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the premiere black culture institution in the world. No other library would do for me. I love black people, and here was a library devoted to preserving the historical records of not just black people in America, but black folk everywhere in the world—African, in the Caribbean, you name it. Wherever we are in this world, you can best believe your stinky draws that the Schomburg gots the good ones on us. Got hired in 1998 and every since I thank my luckiest of stars for placing me in that building, in the environment. Where else can one have the privilege of having the folks from all over the world in your workplace? I mean, if you are edified by that sort of thing, and I am, very much so. Currently I share office and intellectual space with folks from Haiti, Jamaica, Armenia, Trinidad, and four Americans, two Jewish, one Cuban and one from Alabama. The diversity of our staff is further enhanced by divergent spiritual beliefs. We work, we dialogue, we argue, we laugh, we sup, and we take apart the political situations in any given country on any given day. These folks are my family and I love them. Everyday I have the opportunity to learn something from the work that I do, and the people I work with whom I love and respect. I love what I do.
The Center has given me the opportunity to grow as a professional in numerous ways. I have represented the Schomburg at conferences, and at colleges and universities, giving presentations about the Center as well as our collections. Additionally, I have had the honor of serving as the project archivist for two major archival initiatives: the Hip-Hop Archive Project and the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive. Both projects edify me beyond words. To be in on the ground floor of developing two very important endeavors keeps me on my toes. There’s plenty of work to do (as we are horribly understaffed) and taking on these additional projects can be extremely exhausting…but it is worth every yawn and sleepy eye; every presentation and interview; every phone call and letter. It all keeps me very hungry as an information specialist because believe you me, knowing how to get and disseminate information can make the difference between getting somewhere you want to be, or staying somewhere because you do not know how to manipulate information to your advantage. And it helps to have personality.
4. Your most recent labor of love is FUNNY. Tell me about the process that took you from notes, to word document, to rough drafts, to final draft to binded book. How long did it take you?
FUNNY was a grand gesture in forcing dialogue with the wor(l)d in order to confront some raging bullshit deep inside of me that threatened my sanity. Shit that needed to be blown up big and large to heal a corroding self-esteem. Like homo life. Like racism. FUNNY is my grand lesson in ego and self-congratulation, decked out in jazzy quirks and Hip-Hopped missteps. The plan initially was to write a memoir that would break ranks with other types of black LGBT/SGL writing in order to A) distinguish myself and B) get at some other way of looking at the same old shit—sex, homophobia, race, among other things. I captured a few of my musings about life, love and the pursuit of fresh poonnany and breathlessly got them onto paper. In some ways it was a success; I wanted to go public with my privates, so to speak. The process took about two years from notes to the finished product. I worked hard and mostly alone, sharing chapters with friends. Too scared to be told that I should write like this, or write about that, so FUNNY suffers from cabin fever is some ways. Had I another swipe at it, I would have added a few things, but all told I am satisfied that the book is what it is because, as I said earlier, I had to force a dialogue (and recognize) with the wor(l)d in order to confront the monsters under my bed and the ones sleeping next to me in it.
5. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Identify your voice and preoccupations and then go to town. Write every single minute you can. Go over your work until it is seamless. Get good editors, both copy and content, and never be too full of yourself to delete or change a word, sentence, paragraphs, or even pages because remember what you are trying to do here: you are trying to get to story. Fuck everything else which could be hidden or obscured by too much bad writing.
6. Let’s talk about the mighty meat, dr. dick. I’ll let you take it from there, I’m too amused to formulate questions around it so tell me all you want.
Dr. Dick, Advice Giver was a column I penned for Nubian Webspot for what seems eons ago (1998.) Folks would write me and I would reward them with penetrating (haha) and insightful advice. I haven’t been updating the column due to lack of time, but I will probably get it going again in the fall.
7. What would you say is missing right now in 2005 in the black gay community?
Nothing. We have all the talent and resources we, black LGBT/SGL/Q/Q/inthelife people need. Really. What needs to be reconsidered and analyzed is why overall these talents and resources only benefit a few or are generally unknown. What I want to know is (and I say this with love in my heart for anyone who is non-white and non-heterosexual) if we care enough. Do we care that:
Too few of us respect one another
Too few of us really want each other
Too few of support our fledgling organizations and group efforts to speak truth about our diverse lives to a racist, homophobic world
Too few of us actively share spiritual and intellectual space as a means to support one another
Too few of us complain about the lack this or that in the community but are not committed in any way to get this work done
Too few of us have examined our beliefs
Too few of us are willing to engage our own victimization and not be collude in our own destruction
Too few of us step outside of our social circles and engage other realities that we do not understand or respect
Too few of us have considered that we are no different from any other group in that no one is homogenous and unified in their approach to living this complex life
There is no national magazine (and no, Clikque doesn’t count. It comes out too infrequently and it is coverage is limited, and it is only available in a few cities.)
What we lack, I guess, is the inability to see the whys and why nots that tear us up as we age out of the club, gain a few pounds, or lose our innocence. The Royal We expected that there would be someone to take up the slack. That someone is us and we may not be able to take up the slack, and it splits the heart down the middle. That’s not to say that we cannot develop the ability to see; just that it will be a task. It will take us all some time, and a hellava lot of introspection and tears, to get to the heart of what’s ailing us. And then…act!
Post-Negro on Fire.
PHOTO: Artis Wright