Friends, I am SUCH a fan girl for THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray. No joke, it is my favorite of all the books I’ve read by Libba Bray so far (although I haven’t read Going Bovine yet). It is an honor and a thrill to have Memphis, one of the main characters, here for an interview.
1. Reading can really shape a writer. As you are a poet, Memphis, what are you currently reading? Who are your influences?
MEMPHIS: I’ve always been partial to the poems of Mr. Walt Whitman, myself. “Passing stranger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you…” That’s a glorious phrase. But the minute I read “The Weary Blues” by Mr. Langston Hughes, I felt something stir in my soul. “Sweet blues! Coming from a black man’s soul.” Poetry doesn’t just make me feel; it makes me think, too. It’s like the words carve out a secret space inside your heart and fill it with the hope that you’re connected to every living thing.
2. Your best friend, Gabriel, plays horn and is looking to play with Count Basie’s Orchestra, as someone who hangs out at the Hotsy Totsy, you must really like jazz. What makes jazz the cat’s particulars?
MEMPHIS: Jazz feels like Harlem, like home. All that energy spinning out and back, the hot licks, the cutting contests—it’s like Mr. Whitman writing, “I sing the body electric!” Jazz is the pulse of the streets: the rumble of the El, folks rushing to work and home again, old men laughing outside Floyd’s Barber Shop, little kids running up the hill—it just makes a fella feel like anything’s possible. Anything at all. It’s like when I take my girl out under the stars. Folks don’t think there are stars in Manhattan because of all the lights. But they’re there, keeping watch, twinkling to their own rhythm.
3. Word on the street is that Harlem is hitting on all the sixes. Why do you think that is?
MEMPHIS: Come take a walk around and you’ll see why. We could catch a basketball game over at the Renaissance Ballroom on Seventh Avenue, dance the Charleston and the Black Bottom at the Savoy Ballroom, or see a play performed by the Krigwa Players at the 135th Street Library, one of my favorite places to be. We could play the numbers in the morning and listen to Gabe wailing at the Hotsy Totsy come evening. I’ll tell you a secret: Sometimes, I like to stand outside Miss A’Lelia Walker’s townhouse on 136th Street and watch the writers and artists go inside for one of her famous salons. I hope to be there myself someday.
I guess you’d call me a romantic for believing in such things. But a man’s got to believe in something. And I can’t lie—I am a romantic at heart.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to stop by, Memphis! If you are interested in meeting Memphis and the rest of the cast of characters, be sure to pick up your copy of THE DIVINERS today.
You can find out more about The Diviners by clicking the links below:
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