DOGBYTES Interview: Karisma Price

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Karisma Price is a Cave Canem fellow and 2018 Best of the Net Nominee. Born and raised in New Orleans, LA, she holds a BA in creative writing from Columbia University and is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University where she is a in the Public Schools Fellow. Her work has appeared in Four Way Review, Narrative Magazine, Wildness, Glass, Cotton Xenomorph and elsewhere. In 2018, Karisma was named one of the writers on Narrative Magazine’s “30 Below 30” list of new and emerging authors. Karisma lives in Brooklyn and is a reader for Winter Tangerine. Along with Kwame Opoku-Duku III, she is a founding member of the Unbnd Collective. In celebration of the exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, hear Karisma Price read work alongside Cave Canem fellows Naomi Extra and Stephanie Jean on February 2, 2019, 7pm at the Brooklyn Museum.


What kinds of research and/or other forms of influence are informing your current writing project(s), and how?

History is an important influencer for me and I think if I weren’t an artist, I’d probably be a historian or an archivist. Much of the work that I’m currently writing is centered on the ideas of family and kinship in the personal, historical, and mythical sense, and black culture in America—specifically Louisiana. I am big fan of documentary film, historical fiction, and street photography. Currently, I am reading and watching things that deal with the history and culture of New Orleans and how so much of my hometown’s culture exists because of its black inhabitants.

Is there a life experience you may share that has significantly shaped you as a writer?

I think it was in the months following Hurricane Katrina that I was really interested in finding ways to capture the feelings and events going on around me. I was 10 when it happened and after evacuating to Dallas, my family moved back to New Orleans and we were homeless during my 6th grade school year. We spent all the money we had paying for a hotel so we’d have a roof over our heads and I don’t think we’ve ever fully recovered. New Orleans was and still is seen as one of the best vacation spots for tourists because the city is thought of as being joyous and full of light because of the food, music, and festivals, however, during that time, I didn’t see it in that regard because the people I loved were struggling to live. English had always been my favorite subject and I liked to write and read, however, I think it was because of how devastating Katrina was to my city and family that I thought I had something worth saying and sharing.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?

Heavy by Kiese Laymon. #blackabundance

As a practitioner in photography, screenwriting, film and other genres of creative writing, why do you choose to also be a poet? What does poetry offer that it is also part of your artistic practice?

To me, poetry is prayer. It’s ritualistic and meditative and I feel seen when I write (although I do most of my writing in solitude). Poetry was also the first art that I practiced and took seriously. I’ve wanted to be a poet since the 7th grade, but at that age, I didn’t know any living poets besides Maya Angelou and didn’t think I could make a living from poetry. About a year later, I taught myself how to write screenplays after realizing that although I was such a lover of watching films, I found myself sometimes being more interested in watching the “Making Of” and “Behind the Scenes” options on DVDs because I was so interested in the process of making things and not just the final product. All the mediums I practice allow me to create narratives, but I think what I really appreciate about poetry is that what I write does not have to always be told in linear time.

When you’re not reading, writing, or working, how do you spend your time, energy, and money?

I spend most of my money either buying new books or food. It’s a problem. I’m a big fan of hot wings. I also love music and spend a lot of time buying new headphones.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to emerging Black poets?

Read. Read. Read. Write. And then read again. Read widely. But honestly, read when you have time because I know we all have work and lives and families that are also a priority.

Find a writing community or group of friends that will support you and be pleased to watch you succeed.

Trust yourself and your intuition. If an opportunity, situation, or person comes along and it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it (This is more so life advice rather than just poetry advice).

What’s something you tried recently for the first time?

(1) Karaoke and (2) saying “no” to people when I need to.

What motivated you and Kwame Opoku-Duku III to create the Unbnd Collective? How do you see yourselves as part of or apart from other emerging Black artistic collectives that are curating spaces where the literary arts can thrive? (I think of the Black Took Collective, EMPIRE Reading Series and the Black Ladies Brunch Collective to name a small few.)

I met Kwame in 2016 in a creative writing class at Columbia University. He’s one of my closest friends. Kwame and I wanted to create a collective whose mission included creating a reading series and leading workshops to help connect writers of color with their communities. As black poets, we know that there are spaces where artists of color don’t feel fully valued or welcomed, and we didn’t want to sit and wait for another person or group of people to create an environment that would make us feel apart of a community. Seeing other poetry collectives come to fruition inspired us to create an environment where we felt comfortable and didn’t feel like we had to censor our work or ourselves.

What is the strongest influence your child-self contributes to your poetry?

What has remained the same is my constant questioning as to why things are the way they are. I’ve always tried to see the best in people and situations. As humans, we are responsible for each other and I think my child-self still lives in the empathy and patience that I show to other people and the empathy that is present in my poems. My adult-self takes this field very seriously and I think it’s important to represent people in a holistic manner.

What year(s) were you at the Cave Canem retreat? What are a few of your favorite memories from those times?

2018 was my first time at Cave Canem and it was something magical. One of my favorite moments from the retreat was having Chris Abani as a teacher. I’d never met him before and the day he was our workshop leader, we went around in a circle and he said, “when I get to you, you should be able to tell the class where you fit in the poetry tradition, who you are writing to or against, and what are your driving concerns/questions in the poems you write.” He really made me think. Another great, great memory was when I finally learned how to play spades on the last day of the retreat. It was one of the blackest moments of my life because we took a break from spades to do the electric slide.