3Qs for writer Kiini Ibura Salaam

3Q is an occasional series of interviews with artists and innovators. We kick things off with speculative fiction writer Kiini Ibura Salaam, who has just released a new book, Ancient, Ancient. She also runs an email list for writers and creatives of all stripes.

1) You run an email list with creative wisdom, the KISlist. What are you putting out in the world with this list, and why?

For me, freedom is an essential human right and a necessity for the progress of society. We need all kinds of freedom: economic freedom, social freedom, emotional and mental freedom. I believe that all people have a creative spirit, and for those of us who are tapping into our creativity, we struggle to create. When you stand outside of the creative process it can look like magic. When you watch others succeed it can seem unattainable. I write the KIS.list to demystify the process, to share the obstacles and challenges, and to relentlessly call to everyone with a pulse to create.

I just found this Kurt Vonnegut quote: “To practice any art, no matter how badly, is a way to make your soul grow.” I think we beat ourselves up so badly about so many things, that we aren’t giving our souls and our artistry a chance to grow. Growing souls are a sign of a healthy community. I thrive from the self expressions around me and anything I can do to encourage the growth of other souls, I’m all over it. I started the KIS.list over a decade ago, and it turned out to be a huge growing process for me. It’s seen me through many challenging stages of my artistic live, and I recorded all my difficulties as well as my coping mechanisms in the KIS.list and shared them to everyone who was interested in reading about the unseen processes of making art.

I had no how the list would grow and how it would endure. I’ve wanted to quit it many times, and could never bring myself around to doing it. Last year was the tenth anniversary, and I officially pulled the plug on it. But within weeks I was back at it–sharing some interesting new perspective on continuing to create. To celebrate how far I’ve come, I’ve been collecting the KIS.list into ebook volumes organized by theme and the first one–On the Psychology of Writing–was just released on the Kindle. It seems that the KIS.list will be a part of my life for years to come.

2) What influence has your family had on your craft and your life?

Oh, everything. I just wrote an essay for a literary magazine in which I talked about growing up in an artistic environment. The biggest thing it did, I think, was normalize and centralize artmaking. I had a father who was a poet, a mother who was a singer and made all her teaching materials from scratch, an uncle who was a painter, and another who was a musician. My parents’ friends were all artists of some stripe: printmakers, novelists, playwrights, actors, dancers. They weren’t people I saw from a distance, they were the adults who symbolized what I could grow up to be. In my nuclear family, my parents raised us with a high regard for self, coupled with profound personal responsibility. Anything we wanted, we had to go get. Self-determination was huge in my family. We were responsible for validating and nurturing ourselves. I think it has caused me to approach writing with a confidence that what I’m doing is valuable, at the same time, it has provided me with a grounding that says–figure it out, whatever it takes, you have to make it happen.

3) What has your daughter taught you about being an artist, and what have you taught her?

I became a full-fledged adult when I became a parent. I had already began to separate a bit from the constant seeking of post-college adulthood. But parenting introduced me to real toughness, a space in which much is required and you don’t have a lot of space to negotiate. The gift in the unyielding difficulties of constant caregiving is that I learned how to make it happen–whatever it is, I understood that it would not be given to me. Just because I had a child–no one softened my responsibilities or changed the level of output I had to contribute at work. The rent was still due and, whether I was sick, crampy, headachy or depressed, the baby needed to be cared for. Translate that to today where I am literally grabbing the 30 minutes of my subway commute to write, then typing up my notes at work or when I get home–I understand that no one is going to give me my dream.

If I intend to be the writer I envision myself to be, I have to get up and go get it–sick, tired, headachy, or depressed–it doesn’t matter, it’s on me, all on me, and I must be the one to get it done. As for what I have taught her, the truth is you never know what is actually sticking with your kids. You throw all the good at them that you can and hope they are absorbing it, but there are two things that I’m working to teach her: entitlement and self-regard. Entitlement has a negative connotation, but I see it as a principle or an understanding that allows people to expect the best for themselves. I don’t ever want her to be ashamed of something she wants or the vision she has for her life. So I am constantly validating her choices and her decision-making process and when I am not interested or unwilling to provide her with what she wants, I help her strategize to get what she wants. Because, while I do want her to be entitled–in the sense that she believes she deserves to get what she wants, I don’t want her to be spoiled–so that I am never setting her up to believe that I or anybody else is bound to give her what she wants.

The flip side of my version of entitlement is whatever it is you want, you can find a way to obtain it through creativity, persistence, and problem-solving (as opposed to the classic entitlement in which you get what you want at the expense of others). I see her using those tools when she has some grand plan and I don’t go along with it–she gets frustrated, and then I see her wheels turning, next thing you know she’s on the phone trying to figure out how to make it work. And I guess the self-regard goes hand-in-hand with the entitlement, but I never saw it that way until now. I’m trying to nurture in her a deep self respect/self regard, and I suppose you need that to believe that you deserve to have what you want in life.

KIINI IBURA SALAAM is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events, women’s perspectives, and artistic freedom. Her book Ancient, Ancient collects sensual tales of the fantastic, the dark, and the magical.

About Farai Chideya

Farai has combined media, technology, and socio-political analysis during her 20-year career as an award-winning author and journalist. She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She contributes to print, public radio, and cable television; and she also hosts a series of town hall meetings in both New York and San Francisco, with New York Public Radio and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, respectively. You can see an archive of her 2010 midterm election specials -- which foreshadowed some of the current political and immigration debates -- at PopandPolitics.com, which she founded in 1995.