Meet a Grubbie: Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboah

GrubStreet runs on coffee, printer ink, and community. This series features just some of the Grubbies who make our community strong. In this edition, meet Poetry Instructor Emmanuel Oppong-Yeboahan associate editor at Pizza Pi Press, and the reviews editor at Winter Tangerine. Emmanuel has had work published in The Hartford Courant, Narrative Northeast, and Bird's ThumbFind out more about the Happy Hour Writing Session on February 10th, from 5:30-6:30pm, and don't miss his Poetry I: Intro to Dialogue Poetics class.

What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Currently, Yaa Gyasi. I’m in the process of writing up a book review for her newly published novel, Homegoing -- and, of the books I read in 2016, it’s had the most enduring effect on me. As a Ghanaian American I seldom see myself so well represented in literature (I rarely see myself represented at all). The book touches on so many interweaving narratives and histories, and finds a place, for us, children of the diaspora, to be.

What favorite book of yours was made into a movie? Which did you like better, and why?

I really enjoy Matilda, both the book and its cinema adaptation. I remember as a child leafing through the book and all its clever illustrations - and then having the pleasure of seeing Ms. Trunchbull and the cast brought to life, tv dinners and all.

What's your favorite writing prompt?

Most of my favorite writing prompts involve longer processes, taking an idea and expanding and contracting it until you get something workable. My favorite one-liner comes from the poet Rachel McKibbens: “if your body is a church, which memory is its g-d?”

How do you beat a bout of writer's block?

I don’t. I avoid conflict. I take a sudden interest in photography, I read books, I watch documentaries and take notes, I write page long journal entries detailing minutia, I recline and paint my toes. Eventually, the writer’s block gets absolutely fed up with me. I collect my notes and write poems.

What's your teaching philosophy?

As best as I can: to make writing and intellectual production a nexus of joy.

What are you working on right now?

Two chapbook projects. The first is a collection of poems around diaspora, masculinity, boyhood, Blackness, and my religious upbringing. It’s tentatively titled The Prayers the Boy Can’t Sing. The second is a book-length erasure poem project, taking the text of Mark Twains’ Huckleberry Finn, and deconstructing it to find the voice of Jim.

What are you reading?

Lately, a lot of poetry chapbooks. Honeysuckle Press, a sister organization of Winter Tangerine -- a journal I edit for -- is hosting its first ever Chapbook Contest. As far as personal reading goes: Solmaz Sharif’s Look, (begrudgingly) The Artist Way by Julian Cameron, and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

What is the toughest criticism to give or receive on writing?

First, write it as it happened -- both to give and to receive. I think so often as writers we tend to hide ourselves in our words -- and it is important, even just as a process step, to give clarity to the moment.

When do you feel most like a writer?

When I’m around other writers (preferably ones I love/am growing to love), talking craft, pushing one another to be better, and of course, giving sustenance to one another as we continue to do the work of living.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to writers?

Read your writing aloud! Whether aloud to yourself or out loud to a crowd. Something happens when a poem (/essay/play/short story) begins to live inside of you.

Favorite drink?

Alcoholic beverage: Irish Coffee. 
Nonalcoholic beverage: Tea, black or mint. Anything to keep us warm. 

Weirdest/worst job you’ve ever had?

Without a doubt, flyering outside Central Square during high school.

Most interesting hobby?

For a while I used to keep bees on a farm. I no longer have the bees but I’m quite interested in beekeeping and gardening.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin.” I like what it does to a room. 

Do you have a favorite local, independent bookstore? Where and why?

Papercuts JP. They have a great name, and really do try their best to curate a great selection. They organize events in Jamaica Plain, and are willing to order extra copies of anything you can’t find in store.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare?

My friends typically describe the food I make as tasty goo. So you have that to look forward to.

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