“Nessa” Acevedo Chats with Nefarious Author Emanuel Xavier
As one of the most compelling and explicit Nuyorican poets, writers and spoken word artists on the scene, Emanuel Xavier has served as a voice for the victimized, the cast away, the survivors and the thrivers. To his credit are publications including poetry collections Pier Queen, Americano, If Jesus Were Gay and novel Christ Like, the creation of the Glam Slam poetry slam, which combined traditional slam poetry with a ball culture theme thus further opening the door for writers of the LGBTQI community and contributions to Words to Comfort held at the New School after the 9/11 attacks and Spic Up! Speak Out! (later changed to Speak Up!) at El Museo del Barrio. He has also blessed us with his televised presence including two performances on Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO, In The Life on PBS and indy film The Ski Trip.
In June of 2013, Capicu Cultural Showcase featured Emanuel at the Capicu Pride! Open Mic Event. Check out the interview he gave to the showcase’s host PaPo Swiggity before the event here.
Of Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican descent, Emanuel was born and raised in the Bushwick area of New York City and forced to survive on its streets at the age of 16 after revealing his homosexuality to his mother and being thrown out of the home. Though he is often cast as a voice of the Latino and LGBTQ communities, Emanuel’s struggles, journey and insight are universal, if not in direct experience, certainly in the explicit expression of thoughts and feelings that all of us have been challenged with in one way or another. Emanuel’s most recent published work, Nefarious continues to offer readers validation and enlightenment as he speaks to the pain of love gained and love lost, the turmoil of working to release the damage of childhood sexual abuse and the empowerment of coming into truth and evolution on his own terms. Emanuel questions the motives of his lovers, higher power and even himself as he processes his life experiences and offers a window into what it means to face your life and your power instead of running away from it. On a lighter note, you should know that if you hope to partake in his life, you’d do well to be a cat lover.
In the following interview, Emanuel speaks to the message behind his latest compilation and the lessons he has to offer aspiring writers who are seeking to maintain their integrity as they work to become acknowledged and influential.
What is the motivation behind putting together this latest work? What sets it apart from your previous publications? Why the title?
As you can tell, my cat had much influence over this particular project. He insisted that I validate our relationship by featuring him on the cover. Seriously speaking, I realize my publishing career can be looked at pre-attack and post-attack. After the life-changing incident where I was attacked by fifteen to twenty teens back in 2005 and lost all hearing in my right ear, my work became perhaps more “nefarious” in that it had a darker sense of humor and I explored more controversial themes. I think the poems in this book delve deeper into my personal experiences and approach subjects I never have before such as aging.
In this collection, you reflect on the search for true love into later adulthood. What relationship advice do you feel is more relevant for a person in their 40’s as opposed to those in their 20’s or 30’s?
Someone over 40 has already most likely experienced true love and failed to see it through for whatever reason and so there will be baggage, which could also be true for someone in their 30’s. It could be a more mature and realistic relationship if you find someone willing to accept that.
You often ruminate about your search for your father in the arms of a lover. What do you imagine would be different about the men you are attracted to if you had grown up with a present and loving father and without the trauma that marked your childhood and adolescence?
Probably not much that I could say about the type of men I have found myself attracted to but I myself would have been less likely to run away from relationships out of fear of being abandoned. In retrospect, there were men in my life that deserved more of an effort on my part. However, having a strong father figure in my life would have probably also kept me from making so many mistakes and poor judgment when it came to love.
You’ve discussed in this book and past interviews the barriers that your explicit expression have posed to the extent of your fame and recognition in the spoken word scene. What higher calling are you fulfilling by choosing to maintain your explicit and vulnerable nature to the audience? Is it perhaps an extension of your compulsion as a lover to give of yourself so freely?
I’m not sure he would remember this but, when I was first starting out as a spoken word artist, I did an event at NYU with Willie Perdomo. He asked me what I enjoyed most about performing and my naïve response was “the applause.” He then asked what would happen when the day came there would be no applause. I was very young but, even then, I knew this was a profound question. Perhaps, no matter what I do, I’ll never reach a certain level of success because what I write about is not universal or maybe even controversial. Still, I learned early on that it is more important to share your truths than how people will react.
You’ve stated in the past how important it is for Latino writers to publish. To make their works available to those who need to be touched by it. What advice would you give to a writer/poet/performer who is looking to be significant, but not necessarily famous?
For historical reasons, it is important to document our work. Even if you’re not keen to publish your work or have a hard time getting published, as a spoken word artist, it is ideal to have something to leave behind. That could be a video or an audio recording. We have such a rich oral tradition that needs to be preserved. Urayoán Noel mentioned that in an interview for The Poetry Foundation recently and I totally agree. Yes, keeping our books in print will hopefully inform the next generation of Latino/a writers but we are able to preserve our work in more than just print.
In what way are you hoping to touch those that read this latest work? What is the overall message that this collection wishes to enlighten the audience with?
That, though time doesn’t always heal everything, there is always hope in life for love and laughter. You just have to own it.
What topics do you feel are lacking attention in the Latino & LGBTQI Spoken Word community? What new territory would you like to tackle next as an artist?
I’m mixed Latino, Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican, and I’ve touched upon the subject but would like to explore that further. Because I am half breed, Nuyorican purists don’t always necessarily acknowledge me. Academics teach about Chicano or Nuyorican or Spanish language literary history but there is a growing population of mixed Latino/a’s in this country that often get sidelined because we’re not easily boxed. As far as gay literature, spoken word artists of color have always been at the forefront of social politics but there needs to be more published work about queer issues other than marriage and equality. We still have an alarming rate of homeless teens and poverty and transgender issues that need to be acknowledged by the mainstream gay community, and yes, there really is such a thing.
On that note, several years ago you were at the forefront of the “spic” controversy with El Museo del Barrio as the event curator and it’s a topic that still seems to be trending. Any reflective thoughts on this subject?
It’s understandably a volatile word. I don’t use it in my vocabulary except in the context of a poem for reappropriation purposes. Being gay and reclaiming a hurtful word like “queer” as a means to empowerment perhaps gave me a misguided sensibility. The name was changed but I had already taken the fall for it, even though I didn’t name the series in the first place. I flipped some wigs by taking an unpopular stance but I took the risk and learned a lot from it.
Your life journey is an inspiration to many who are looking to live past merely surviving their trauma. However, many times we are so busy judging our past destructiveness that we fail to acknowledge the strengths we’ve employed in surviving. What lessons and strengths from your hustling and dealing days continue to serve to your benefit today?
I think when I first came about the literary scene I used my youth and attractiveness as an appeal much like I did as a hustler. I’m not ashamed and I don’t think anyone ever should be. It helps get your foot in the door but it’s what keeps you in the room that’s most important. Success and career longevity is based on your writing talents and not your looks.
Expanding upon the previous question, it’s clear that you’ve maintained a sense of empathy for people in your life who have committed acts that would otherwise make them outcasts in the eyes of society. One might speculate it is an act of paying forward the rejection you have experienced and possibly even an attempt to reconcile the victimizations you have been subject to. What do you feel motivates this ability?
I think I just learned not to be judgmental and forgiveness is very powerful and healing. I’ll always have an outcast sensibility because, regardless of what I do, I’ll always still be an outcast myself. That is definitely a strength and lesson that came from being “nefarious.”
If we haven’t already covered it in the previous questions, what do you want readers to know about Nefarious?
That it is not all that dark and intense. I just have a wicked sense of humor and there are poems about getting peed on and my pussy. Okay, maybe it’s not for everyone.
12. New Year’s resolutions?
After several publications and high profile events, people have pointed out the fact I don’t necessarily have a place at the table. I may never get any major awards and history books will be published without any mention of me but I’m not sitting around waiting for an invitation anymore. It’s not always about setting up your own table on the side. Sometimes you just need to grab a cocktail and force your way into the conversation.
About The Author:
Vanessa “Nessa” Acevedo is a Colombian-American Social Worker, aspiring writer, emerging poet and proud member of #TeamCapicu from “Queens, N.J” 🙂