Heed Talks With Bestselling Author MK Asante About New Book “Buck”
Philadelphia is home to some of the most incredible talents in the arts ranging from iconic poet and Black Arts Movement influencer, Sonia Sanchez to award winning musician and actress, Jill Scott; from Gamble & Huff, pioneers of the ‘Philadelphia sound’, to the legendary Roots Crew. Following in the footsteps of those innovative artists is Philly native, MK Asante, a bestselling author, award-winning filmmaker, hip-hop artist, and professor who CNN calls “a master storyteller and major creative force.” Asante is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Buck, described by Maya Angelou as “A story of surviving and thriving with passion, compassion, wit, and style.” Buck is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. His other books are It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop, Beautiful. And Ugly Too, and Like Water Running Off My Back. Asante, a multifaceted artist, directed “The Black Candle,” a prize-winning Starz TV movie. He wrote and produced the film “500 Years Later,” winner of five international film festival awards, and produced the multi award-winning film “Motherland”. Asante studied at the University of London, earned a Bachelor of Arts from Lafayette College, and an Master of Fine Arts from the UCLA School of Film and Television. His work afforded opportunities for touring in over 40 countries and he has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, as well as hundreds of other universities. He recently made his debut as a hip hop artist on the song “Godz N The Hood” featuring iconic hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. We were eager to talk to MK Asante about his latest work “Buck” and the impact he’s hoping to have with this book. More than just a critically acclaimed author, Asante is a man with a story, a voice and a pen. Check out Heed’s exclusive conversation!
Heed Magazine: Why should young black boys read your book?
MK Asante: It’s a book that defines a generation, honestly. This book is for my generation what “Manchild in a Promised Land” was to Claude Brown’s generation; this book is to my generation what “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was to Maya Angelou’s generation. This is the voice of a generation. It’s not only my story, but it’s the story of so many of our youth. They should read this book because it’s their story. I think they should also read this book because it’s incredibly inspiring. It shows that no matter where you come from, or what obstacles and adversities you face you don’t have to be reduced to it. It shows them the power of art; the power of family, the power of really understanding what “Buck” is about. “Buck” is about ‘bucking’ the system, ‘bucking’ the statistics, ‘bucking’ the stereotypes, ‘bucking’ the traps that they set up for us. It’s so educational but not in a way that’s typical. It’s not a school kind of education; it’s not a textbook kind of education; it’s a different kind of education. Mark Twain said “don’t let school get in the way of your education.” Well, “Buck” is a book about education, it’s about mis-education, re-education, self-education, street-education. So, those are some of the reasons. And then, one of the most powerful things about the book to me is the way it’s written.
Heed Magazine: You’re originally from Africa, right?
MK: Well, I was born in Zimbabwe, but my parents are from America.
Heed Magazine: Oh, okay!
MK: Yeah, I was born in Zimbabwe, but my mom is from Brooklyn and I talk about that in my story. My dad is one of 16 children, grew up in a shack in Valdosta, GA. My mom is from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Heed Magazine: Wow, that’s interesting. So in thinking about all of those aspects of your rearing, how do you think that has shaped your view of the world?
MK: You know, I always felt like a bridge between America and the Diaspora you know in terms of Africa. It was always like growing up my house was really afrocentric and my parents were really afrocentric. I mean, they moved to Africa to be at the heart of the independence struggle in Zimbabwe. My parents are revolutionaries…so, I grew up with that kind of background and obviously my friends knew nothing about Africa except the stereotypes and things they saw on TV. So, I always felt like I did know for real, and I knew who I was and I was proud of who I was, I always felt like I could help bridge the gap between continental Africans and African-Americans because I always felt like it was miscommunication. It helped me understand who I was at an early age. I went through a quick little phase when it wasn’t cool to be from Africa, but I never dealt with some of the issues other people deal with in terms of who they are and where they come from and not being proud. I was always proud. I think it just made me worldly. I’m older now and I’ve traveled to over 40 countries, I lived abroad and now I just have a world perspective…a global perspective.
Heed Magazine: At what point did you know that writing was your calling?
MK: I knew that writing was my calling when I was in an alternative school. I got kicked out of every school that I went to in Philly and I ended up in an alternative school and in that school the teacher basically put a piece of paper in front of everybody and said “write.” I said, “Well, what do you want me to write?” and she said, “Write anything you want.” So, I wrote, “F**k school.” She looked at and said, “Keep going” and I haven’t stopped since.
Heed Magazine: What are your thoughts on the current state of the Philadelphia School District?
MK: Well, I haven’t been following the current state of the Philadelphia School District. I write my book about the state of the School District when I was involved in it. I write about the school to prison pipeline, I write about the serious issues. This book is about education. I write from the perspective of me at the time and going to the schools wondering if the schools looked like prisons or if the prisons looked like schools, but either way are we supposed to act like students or prisoners. I’m confused. What’s going on, to me, with inner city schools all across America is criminal.
Heed Magazine: And you know what, one thing I appreciate about the book is that it’s culturally relevant. One thing I do know is that some people won’t read because it’s not attractive.
MK: Yeah, because it’s not written for them! I got the whole hood reading “Buck”. I got ‘ratchet’ people reading “Buck” and I got people at Harvard reading “Buck”. But the people at Harvard aren’t why I wrote it, I wrote it for the ‘young bucks’. I got people reading, and they’re so enthralled in the story that they don’t even realize the education they’re getting as well and the messages and all that stuff. I mean come on, we’re dealing with a generation that sees through the bulls**t immediately, so we have to write things that resonate with them, things that are authentic and real. The best compliment I’ve gotten so far came from someone in a juvenile detention center. This was in Washington State and they said they give my books to kids that hate reading.
Heed Magazine: That’s powerful.
MK: The greatest compliment I’ve ever received.
Heed Magazine: That says a whole lot. So with all of that, what do you take heed to?
MK: The craft. I’m constantly trying to improve my art. So, I listen and I listen to elders. I just found out that a very important man in Philadelphia, Dr. Walter Lomax, has passed away. Dr. Walter Lomax was an incredible person in Philadelphia, and incredible businessman. He invested in my film, “The Black Candle,” the film that I did with Maya Angelou, she narrated it, and he invested in me at a time when other people weren’t investing in me. So, I take heed what he told me and the advice that he gave me as a man, as a businessman, as a black man and I surround myself around people that have good things to offer, good advice and wisdom.
Heed Magazine: Lastly, is there anything that you want to share with our readers in regards to “Buck”?
MK: Definitely, the book has so many elements! It has my mom’s personal journal entries and it’s really deep to read what she was going through and how it relates to me, my brother and my dad. It’s also really deep to read my brothers letters from prison, and they are very helpful and insightful to what young black men are going through, and not just young black men but a lot of people. So, those are powerful things that I just want to make you aware of. Also, we’re working on a soundtrack to the book. I just recently made my first hip-hop song with Talib Kweli, it’s called “Godz N the Hood”. Talib’s on the soundtrack along with a bunch of other people are on it. There will be excerpts from the book with original music created by me and a some other people. And than we just got financing for development of the “Buck” movie and we plan on going into production in 2014!
Heed Magazine: Thanks for this interview! It’s good to see another Philly brother doing his thing. I commend you for that.
MK: Thanks brother, I appreciate it man.
BE SURE TO PICK UP YOUR COPY OF “BUCK” IN BOOKSTORES NATIONWIDE!
Check out the official book trailer for “Buck”!