(As delivered to PEN America’s celebration of Books Beyond the Margins)
By Yinishye Nasdijj
It begins with hostility.
The kind of hostility that breeds yet more hostility.
I often ask myself about twenty times a day why it is
I am such a masochist to take the hostility
Publishing dishes out to me
And writers like me and the degree of sheer hatred that is directed
Toward me and the kind of projects I write
by mainstream publishing houses.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and the tongues of snakes.
The land of books. The hooks of shanks.
You've been recognized you fuck by PEN.
For your book about your son who died from AIDS.
I had been quietly slipping away. Not caring much anymore.
The only friends I had were whores.
Into that maladaptive haze.
The labyrinthine maze. Publishing. Had become too much.
They want too much. Every day, it was always something.
And me to touch. "Hello, Nasdijj?"
"Do you have a photograph?"
"It's great that the world recognizes you. You dumb fuck.'
"But you've become too difficult to deal with.'
"You didn't do all the divine interviews we asked you to do'
"You've been given every chance, and we're over you.'
"Your ideas for books are good ones.'
"Those books should be published. In fact, we would love to publish them.'
"But not by you. Nothing personal."
"Goodbye, Nasdijj. We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors
and we hope that your books find a home."
Can you imagine?
Me in my truck to roam.
There's a movie lot somewhere
with a Leave it to Beaver set of a suburban house
it's a nice house with a white bay window
And apples on the wholesome windowsill.
And inside the nice house with the white picket fence
is a nice mom with a dust mop and high heel shoes.
And every morning she puts her panty hose on one leg at a time.
And mom is dusting all the books.
And baking nice white sugar cookies (no marijuana) for all the books.
And at night Sugar Daddy comes home and they have dinner with all the books.
And Daddy takes the books into the den.
Where he delivers long lectures on the sins of masturbation.
And all the books speak in tongues and whispers.
And all the books gasp and moan. For all the books have found a home.
And all the books are made from bone.
There are no more books to put on loan.
As most books know that they are prone.
To madness in the home for books. They have lost themselves in how they looks.
Publishing has some very odd rituals and notions. Witches and witchery.
Merlin. Cures and potions.
The belief that there are editors and publicists who wish me well is one.
Still. My phone. It rings and rings.
It used to be that if a tiny, mainly unknown writer such as myself sold twenty thousand copies of his book in a year
which I can do if I want to literally go insane
in some idiot's version of a whirlwind tour
to ten-thousand bookstores where two people show up at each bookstore
to buy books
which is often two more people than often show up at bookstores I read in
that would be a good year
and a good run for that fundamentally unknown writer.
Fer sher. For today, twenty-thousand books is nothing
and if that's all you can sell in a year schleping around books
all over America
then prepare to pack your bags
because publishing is going to throw you into the street
and hags and wash its hands of the likes of you. Like rags.
Is that ALL your spook is, Honey, twenty-thousand books?
The world is happiness and the world is new. The world is red.
And white. And blue.
Today, it's not the editor who decides which books get published.
It's the people in marketing, and the publisher is usually one of them.
Sparkle, Danielle, sparkle.
In order for there to be books beyond the margins
there has to be another prerequisite
and that's lives lived beyond the margins, too.
The world is empty there's nothing left to chew.
There will be virtually no books published beyond the margins and boundaries of anything.
Unless writers are living lives
and experiencing life as it exists outside the context
if homogeneric America.
That means black writers.
Native American writers, Hispanic writers, Asian writers, and poets.
Poets are writers who write poems.
All my warriors to your miseries.
It might mean migrant writers, waitress writers, truck driver writers.
And writers who rob banks.
Unfortunately, it does not mean poor writers because all writers are that.
Jill Davis (writers: let's start naming names) who is an editor at the Penguin groups told me this:
Maybe poor people shouldn't be writers.
She means people of color. Like me.
You will have a world of books with all the same voice if that's what you want.
It seems it is. What you want.
Diversity of voice comes with blood.
I live in my truck next to a shack.
Along the candycane railroad tracks.
I don't care what lip service publishing wants to pay
to keep its image of the heroic and the literary alive and well.
The reality is that publishing is hell.
Publishing is NOT looking for black writers.
You have no idea how many times I have been told by editors: "We are already publishing enough black books this year."
And I'm not even BLACK!
When I point this out to them
which they find extremely annoying and my email gets blocked
they say: We were confused.
But I'm the one washed up and used.
Publishing is not looking for Indian writers.
Publishing is not looking for Hispanic writers.
Publishing does absolutely nothing
to facilitate the publication of books beyond the margins.
What publishing wants are strictly bargains.
To wit: I dare you.
I double-dog dare you to go home, sit down, and write a book on AIDS.
It's a crankhouse world of speed that fades.
AIDS is so utterly far from the experience of most publishers
it's a virus that came from outer space.
WRITE your book.
You will be erased. No one will publish it.
Can you imagine the publicist whose job is to get you onto Charlie Rose.
"Oh, my god. It's a book on AIDS. I suppose..."
My son was dead. He was twelve-years-old.
I was on my back on the bed of the Cheap Gin Hotel I was living in.
Wondering. Watching the spiders on the ceiling. Wondering.
What could I do about AIDS? ME. A nobody.
It's a crankhouse world and speed and tongues.
Children lost and children won.
A support group? I had no idea what a support group was.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and tongues of snakes.
Mamacita kisses our chocolate bakes.
Our support group is three-years-old, now, Sugar.
Who's your bitch now, Daddy?
We are a group of boys between the ages of ten and seventeen
Who meet once a week at my cabin in the woods
Where I live on a lake (where we go canoeing) in North Carolina.
We meet once a week unless one of us dies.
And then we go to the funeral and meet twice a week.
Of course, WW Norton doesn't think boys like this have stories.
Worth being told.
Our anonymity bought and sold.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and cheek. I call them MY BOYS.
My boys are different from the parents who gave them AIDS.
My boys all gaze. At some distant horizon I can never know.
Of rocking horses and Geronimo.
My boys are living with the disease where their parents mainly died from it.
Before the advent of the highly effective antiretrovirals
People were getting sick in cities. This is the social demography of AIDS.
In the seventies, people were leaving the South. Imagine that.
The calls of hookers and the calls of cats.
In the eighties, they were being diagnosed
And they were leaving those cities -- grabbing baby boys' hand.
Come on, honey we going to Grandma's house, to return home to die.
Like a dried up starvation titty mouse.
In the 1990s, they died, leaving children to cope for themselves.
In hells everywhere in the South from New Orleans to Richmond.
I know this: New Orleans is a big urban city. So is Richmond.
We like to think of New York as shitty.
Publishing in particular keeps its nose stuck up in that rareified air.
Manhattan is the beginning and the end of God.
I am the keynote speaker this year (and something of a lightning rod).
At a convention of the AIDS Coalition in Texas, and people who work with addicts, junkies-on-the-street, deaf mute punk boy bands
French Quarter Midget Transvestite Bars.
Houston whores in whore houses, boys in bath houses.
Arkansas drug treatment centers.
And all the Southern Underworld Crankhouse Crapshoot.
These are the people I love. Eat me, Random House.
The people that I care about and love to write about -- SHOUT!
It. From. The. Rooftops. They will all be there. People beyond the margins.
Without a care. Without these people there would be no books.
Mainstream or otherwise.
Can you imagine books without these people?
Mainstream publishing is a racist bitch.
Sparkle, Danielle, sparkle.
No one wants a book about an AIDS support group for young gentlemen.
Many of those young gentlemen are gentlemen of color. Imagine that.
Such a book might upset the white suburban mothers of Soccor, Illinois.
Such a book would get edited down into the context of a toy.
It would at Norton.
A nice toy.
And do not kid yourself.
They buy books those mothers and the publicists know it.
The aforementioned people above
While colorful -- do not for the most part buy books.
A twenty-five dollar book could be twenty-five dollars of dog food.
Or at least enough dog food for you to eat to get you through the week.
I have eaten dog food. To survive. Being homeless.
Dog food and gin.
To books and poems and back again.
Here I am, Mamma!
Who's your bitch now, Random House.
I still dumpster dive for food.
It's rude. But it's reality.
We find that the best dumpster diving is at the University of North Carolina.
Not the UNC or Duke places you attended your nice literary conference in.
We were the hobos in the back in the dumpsters.
Where all the spoiled bratty students throw half-chewed pizza out.
Do I BLAME publishing for my own homelessness? You FUCKING bet I do.
If publishing was open to the idea that people such as myself exist, that we write
What we tell the stories of ourselves, that our work is of any value at all..
I would not have had to scrape, beg, crawl
And dumpster dive for the past thirty years.
Of tears into my beers.
They warned me:
DO NOT TALK ABOUT CLEANING UP SHIT ON YOUR BOOK TOUR.
In my book about my son's death from AIDS
I discuss the esoteric experience of cleaning shit.
I arrived at a bookstore in California. There was no one there.
Not one solitary soul.
The publicists will tell you it was all my fault. I can only shrug.
So I read (to the walls) all about cleaning shit. Someone has to do it.
DO NOT TALK ABOUT TWELVE-YEAR-OLD BOYS
WITH AIDS WHO HAVE ERECTIONS.
THE NEW YORK TIMES WILL FIND YOU DISTURBING.
They should have. AIDS IS DISTURBING! Get it?
Twelve-year-old boys with AIDS ARE disturbing.
Get a clue.
But watch out.
If you dare to write about experiences or life
Is it is lived beyond the margins, push
Danielle, grunt, you cunt, push, it's a lot like having a baby
You will be shown the door in publishing.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and tongues of snakes.
It's rock and roll and Mamacita shakes. Her booty.
Publishing is my bitch.
I want to fuck that dead cow with a whip.
I know this, too: La la!
There isn't a publisher or publicist in this business
Who wouldn't kill for a celebrity book. I mistook.
Myself for one. It's a crankhouse world of speed and guns.
NOT a celebrity beyond the margins.
This in and of itself would be a contradiction in terms. Speed and tongues.
We are like germs.
The very nature of c-e-l-e-b-r-i-t-y is to celebrate.
In burns by solemn ceremonies.
Or appropriate rites (or feasts).
Those activities (such as circumcision) that demonstrate satisfaction.
Those of us who live at the margins rarely if ever demonstrate
I CAN'T GET NOOOO
With refraining from ordinary
This is what people are who do not live anywhere near the margins do
Business. Note the word: business. Publishing is a business.
Publishing is not a business.
Not a serious one. They only work half the fucking year and they are lazy.
It is arrogant, bloated, pompous.
Self-inflated with gas, baby, and who's your dady now, and top heavy.
So top heavy that when it farts it barfs. Both ends.
When its focus becomes enamored with the business of minutia
Publishing will always, always turn in comfort to the ordinary.
They will hate this.
And spit at me.
So fucking what.
That and fifty cents gets you on the fucking bus.
And you think I'm the one who's scary.
They said: I'm here to tell you to know your place.
You will never have lunch in this town of chaste. Snakes and rakes.
Which is why publicists do not think
This is a contradiction in terms, a publicist who thinks, outside of the box.
Or the bookstore let's-all-attend-a-reading-by-the-restroom-door scenario.
Where else can they put you? In maps? In fiction? In biography?
I hear that Paris Hilton -- that Great Talent Stupid Video Fuck -- is getting a million bucks.
For her memoirs.
When did books become GAY books?
When did books become BLACK?
Can they put you in NEW AGE books if you use the word -- COSMIC.
Yes. They can.
To survive. In publishing. You learn to scram.
Long, long ago, they said:
You migrant boys are stupid and illiterate. Shits.
We did not know math except we knew what a bushel was.
We did not know English.
But we knew that if we spoke Navajo
They would wash our mouths out with soap.
It wasn't the soap that was so bad. It was the humiliation.
They said our mothers were whores.
And that this, too, would be the stuff we would in time take into the darkness.
Hold it close to your breast at night.
That is where the margins are. In the shadows that we know.
In our horrid doubts like the spiders.
That crawled across the ceiling of the Cheap Gin Hotel.
A support group is a crankhouse world of speed and shells.
They said America loves its children.
Anyone ever try to write a story about a black boy.
That you LOVE or made LOVE to and try to get it published?
Not since the invention of Houlden Moulden Caufield.
By Harriet Beecher Stowe has a book so perfectly perferated
The emotional edges of society as we know it. Expect strong sales.
That is the trouble with America and with publishing.
They do not know us, and they never will. They only pretend to.
They said: learning language in school was important.
And then if you lived on the margins
They failed you and they failed you and they said:
You have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Bad writer. Bad writer.
I slap my own face. I do.
My mother was a drunk.
When she was pregnant, she was a double-dog-dare drunk.
Being literally barefoot and pregnant.
And working in tomato fields was not her idea of sobriety.
Her children pay the price.
But we have nothing of merit to say.
Certainly nothing observant.
That will find its way into the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS.
I was the only person in America to publically wonder.
After 9-11 (actually I didn't think it would get printed but it did).
If it wouldn't be better for American publishing to spread itself out.
And embrace more than just one tiny little island.
In its psychological geography.
Instead of going up and down.
Perhaps we should find sustenance by going across and back and forth?
But no. For this, I was called a racist by editors at A Certain House.
Random Fucking House.
Who sent me a contract that very week and published two of my books.
They said: everyone should earn a living.
Except the writer.
They really said this. To moi.
I was thinking: how foolish, don't they know I am going to QUOTE them?
Well, sort of.
They are the worst, most racist organization in America.
I wish I had never heard of them.
Who's your bitch, now, Daddy.
Publicists should earn a living from what they do.
Writers should never ever misconstrue.
Copy editors should earn a living from what they do. Agents should. Whatever.
Editorial assistants should earn a living from what they do.
To manuscripts. And to you.
The PARKING LOT ATTENDENT ears a living.
But not the writer whose work gives all these wonderful people JOBS.
The mailroom boy should earn a living by what he does.
Or nothing will get sent to us overnight.
How many writers do you really know who earn a living writing?
Perhaps you know a hundred. Please. The dogs are biting.
Or perhaps that would be an exaggeration.
I said: WHAT can I send you.
They said: we want to see it all.
Publishing is a world of lies.
My spies said: it's a crankhouse world of speed and tongues of snakes.
They said: we want a prophet. It was an earthquake of decorum shakes.
Or I thought they said WE WANT A PROPHET.
Actually, they said: we want a profit.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and tongues-of-snakes, publishing.
The snakes. They coil. They dance. They takes.
Publishing is the down here prison where the basements drip.
One toilet at a time of the open pit.
The pimping rooms of the empty sockets for their eyes. They do not love.
They just despise.
They said: WORDS, IDEAS are what we are about. Words. Ideas.
Rage. Is what the screams will shout.
A legacy of hate. Indifference cold. Infinitude is the horizon.
The sunset's margins old. Pushing. Outward.
Against these walls. Feels so alone.
The suburban malls. They said: be nice. It's not about pornography.
Publishing will spread your legs in iconography.
They said in high school English class, words, ideas will save your soul.
No one said there would be a toll.
They said your depravity they'd cut and slay. Skanks and ranks.
Cat calls today. They said: follow the rulz. The toolz. Are in your head.
Her best work sparkles twisting inside her bed.
They said: you fucking stupid trash will fail. Cooking soup, Mamacita.
The rats in jail. Crawl giggle all across the concrete floor.
They said we know you. Nothing moves. The book's a bore.
America the beautiful the open ranges. Mamacita stirs her spoon.
No. Nothing changes.
They said we will box you up and define your work. We will chop it down.
To pieces. Jerk.
You off you scoff. We will see you dead.
Your blood on walls is then to red.
In darkness shiver and then survive.
They call me CHIEF there is nothing to surmise.
Like cum from Indians only is.
They said Geronimo was fair grounds jizz.
They said history began when the white men came.
The lips of smallpox against the slain.
It's a crankhouse world of speed and tongues of snakes.
They load their guns. They dance. To blanks.
Going off around their toes. Your books will all find homes they do suppose.
Beyond the margins, they will lock you up. Restraints. The pills. The medication cup.
They said we own the margin's borders and all the territory in between.
Inside my binoculars the seldom seen.
Up close we care they said in words.
Ideas. Freedom. Inclusion. Turds.
Know this: that they care at all is a dangersome illusion. They own the words.
That is my conclusion. They do not want YOU. You want to be heard?
Don't say nothing new. No ideas blurred.
What slips from their lips are hideous slurs.
They only want what they own. The margins curve.
The rivers shiver. It's a crankhouse world of jack-the-giver. They said punch in.
Punch out. Be on time. No breaks.
Hey, I'm just the savage slime. Who steals and takes his sons and suns of rage.
To beyond the time where light is blades.
I've been shot (I am not joking). Left to rot. In the desert of AIDS.
I've been whipped by beauty and a black boy's braids.
I sing of ripe women and my eyes of lust. They drink my tears that taste of rust.
Breasts beyond the margins of the crushing thrust.
What they own is their misery and they can eat my dust.
They said what I write are the Indian books. Aisle twelve. In the crannies.
Labyrinthine crooks. Stealing crankhouse worlds and tongues of snakes.
They coil. They dance. For goodness sakes.
Our lists are only fishing and the writer is our bait.
What we're selling is indifference and the fire is your fate.
They said it's the corporation, boy. We own the store.
We own the idea and the ploy.
They never knew me in those torn margins where my songs were of the bird.
My images were moving but my flight was never heard.
They think they use you up and that the writer's burned and drained.
What they know of strength is nothing and nothing of my pain.
This poem is just my anger at thinking I have been betrayed. I'm not with them.
I'm only dancin' not summarily inflammed.
They think they used my crankhouse up and threw me back into the street.
Cuz they cannot hear no dancin' music of my feet.
To the music of my stories and star-to-star.
The loving flesh inside what I have been loaned.
It's my dreams, my water-streams, and the glowingfire moon inside my poem.
It's a crankhouse world of tongues and snakes. The land of books.
The hook of shanks.
I've been homeless but my vision skips along the margins but from where I roam.
They said your pockmarked veins and arms are only arms.
But to me they are my home. At the margins, it's about the seldom show'd.
Publishing is daddy's bitch and it's an ugly cast.
Of characters who can kiss my ass.
As for me
You'll find me living at the ending of this rainbow in the middle of the road.
Just a little writer (with a mouth) whose editor was a princess who now hops about something like a toad.