Last Saturday I got the chance to spend time with my good friend and Art Hoe Collective curator, Sandra T. After having THE most delicious Gyro Over Rice I’ve ever had in my entire life, we headed out for a long walk wherein we talked about writing, politics, and the art of authenticity. I first met Sandra at Art Hoe creator Mars’ first show in NYC in April. She recently put out a brilliant poetry anthology called Dark Matter, which is a collection of poems she wrote in her teens. Sandra is one of my favorite people in the world, and I’m sure once you read her words and take in what she has to say about everything from being weird to social media you’ll see why.
Jenoris: Who inspires you to be a better person and a better writer?
Sandra: Well first of all, my mother. Definitely. [She is] a writer. You know, she’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic. She encourages me to do better but she also tells me what I need to work on. Also artists—writers—like Tananarive Due and Helen Oyeyemi because they write speculative fiction which is a genre that is very void of people of color, especially black women. These are women that write fiction, which is kind of rare because a lot of people expect black writers to write very “social justice” bell hooks-type pieces. They want to see us do one type of thing.
J: Just think pieces.
S: Yeah. We do all things. We do science fiction like N. K. Jemisin. We do horror like Tananarive Due. We do magical realism like Helen Oyeyemi. And we do this, and we don’t forget that we are black women, first and foremost. You see that in their work and that’s what they talk about and that’s what I love. I want to be able to write my fantasy and my horror but also not forget that I am a black woman.
J: The written word is a very powerful tool with a seemingly infinite amount of applications. Has writing proven useful to you?
S: Definitely. I think through writing I’m able to show myself to people. A lot of my writing comes from how I see things and how I visualize things and how my mind works. Some of them are from my dreams or just certain images of my dreams that I elaborate on. When you read my work you see parts of me in my work; it’s me bearing my soul.
J: What’s your favorite piece that you’ve ever written?
S: I haven’t written it yet.
J: Literary and visual arts share a lot in common by way of exposition and narrative. In academic/intellectual circles, visual work by young artists that is purely aesthetic is often seen as less valuable, despite the fact that visuals are invariably tied to an aesthetic. When it comes to writing, should words always carry meaning or can they simply exist as beautiful expression?
S: You know, this is something I’ve been very, very interested in especially as I’ve been looking into avant garde literature and film. A lot of it is about the visual, about the image. It’s about the politics of current times. These things are not mutually exclusive. You can’t have these words and put them in a sentence and then not have meaning. You can’t have [work] without that human influence.
J: So even if it was meant to be purely for shallow consumption, it would still carry meaning anyway.
S: Exactly! In the words of Sonia Sanchez, “All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo or they say, ‘something is wrong, let’s change it for the better.'” Even if they was to say, “Oh, my work isn’t political,” that is a political stance because you decided to be non-political. That’s an active stance.
J: Oh, man. I’ve honestly never thought about it that way. There’s a lot of truth to that.
J: I feel like given how we met and your role as a curator I should ask, how do you look at social media? Do you see it only as a social tool or more as a work tool?
S: Definitely a work tool. I mean a lot of the work I have now is [because of] social media. The work I do at Rookie and the work I do at Afropunk and the collective, those are jobs. I work them full time. I put myself into it and produce results and that’s what a job is. When it comes to Art Hoe, I sort through submissions, I post the submissions, there’s a format I have to abide by. It’s a job and that’s why I see social media as work tool. It’s also a social tool because, you know, that’s how I text with friends and stuff like that. The times are changin’.
J: Yeah. So you see it as a powerful tool for building your career, which is essentially what Art Hoe is about.
J: So about social media, there’s lot of value placed on social currency: networking, the people that you know through social media. Social media is definitely affecting the way we think about and approach social currency. Even still, a mutual isn’t always a friend, is it? Do you think we put too much stock in social media followings as currency? Can you readily measure a person’s worth through social media or should you try to get to know them [outside of social media]?
S: You definitely can’t [place] worth through social media. It’s a lot of people seeing people with a certain follower count and expecting them to live a certain life which is totally not the case. People think Gabby (a fellow curator) is this other-worldly, like, goddess and they have all these followers but when you get to know them, they’re a goofball. They’re corny, they can’t dance. [laughs] I’m just joking but they’re really down to earth and you don’t see that. I think about, for example, Rowan Blanchard followed me [and sometimes] they’ll like a post and then there’s comments like “Oh, Rowan liked this!” and it’s kinda weird for me to see that because it’s like… she’s just a person who saw my picture and liked the post. Like these are real people with real insecurities, real flaws, real [positivity] about themselves and [negativity] about themselves. They’re people. You can’t think that they’re so much better than you just because they’re of a certain social status.
S: They’re all people at the end of the day.
J: So basically, social media would only give you like a small idea of what a person’s like but it does create this image that maybe doesn’t match up at all with the person [they really are].
S: It doesn’t. How do I say this? There’s a lot of people who don’t have [a large] follower count who are amazing people and then there’s people who do have the follower count who aren’t amazing people. The follower count nowadays days does get you jobs but I don’t like that change.
J: The idea that social media followings are leaving out people that should be getting careers.
S: Yeah. There are people who don’t have that following and we lose our opportunities and we produce very fucking good work and it’s not being noticed. Follower counts don’t mean shit.
J: They really don’t because it doesn’t really measure the worth of a person at all.
S: No. There’s people with a whole lot of followers who produce bullshit…
J: And they’re able to build careers off of that.
S: There’s also that whole “how you look” stuff, too. I’m not light-skinned. I’m not skinny. I’m not short, cute, and petite. I don’t have those “model looks;” I have big lips, I have a big nose. Looks is what gets followers as well.
J: Yeah, there’s this idea [that] visibility is a very important thing but it can also be detrimental if people see what you look like, they don’t like it, and they decide that you as a person, as a creator, don’t matter.
S: It’s like… I’m okay with the way I look. It don’t bother me if people don’t find me attractive. I really don’t care I would like my work to speak for itself but for some reason… Lula [Hyers] said to me one time: “People want to put a person behind the work” and if your face is not out there, they tend to not care and it’s kind of frustrating because I’m not the sort of person that likes to be in the forefront. That’s exactly why I’m a writer, because I like to stick to myself. I have to put my face out there and…
J: And you also have to face the response you get to putting your face out there. It’s like a double-edged sword.
S: Yeah. I’m in a no-win situation basically.
J: That’s [ridiculous] that these days you can’t JUST be a writer. You have to be a writer, AND a presence, AND a face AND have a social media following in order to build your career. Even then, it might not always pay off.
S: For me, you know, I’m a Pisces, which is a mutable sign. I change a lot. That’s another thing about [having to be a presence]. They want you to have a certain brand. They want to put you in this box. My whole image changes all the time. One minute I could have curly hair, the next minute I’ll have on braids. One minute I could have no make up on, the next I’ll have on full glam. I don’t have a certain style or certain brand that people could put me into. I’m not consumable. People can’t digest me in any sort of way.
J: You feel that because people can’t put you in an image they can project onto that you aren’t getting [that response].
J: That’s so beyond because the whole idea of your movement is to not have fit into “that image” of what an artist should be.
S: (Art Hoe curators) Mars and Sage try so hard to break [out of] it but…
J: But people still put them back into those boxes?
S: Yeah. They do. I can’t see myself having one type of brand. I could wear the dark, witchy clothes and look like Anne Rice but I like to wear pink. Sometimes I like to wear gray or violet pants. I can’t be put into a certain style or category and be perceived that way. That’s just not the person I am.
J: That’s true. The idea that you have to be one thing every day, all the time is dangerous to yourself because then it becomes limiting to yourself. You’re limited to the person you think you should be. I feel like this something people struggle a lot with, especially when you’re a teenager. The idea that you have to stick to this kind of person people think you are even while you’re still constantly changing. It’s intense when you’re a teenager but it doesn’t exactly go away when you’re an adult. We’re in that like, baby adult stage. People expect you to be like SET in your ways by the time you’re an adult.
S: But see, the thing is, a lot of things that happen in school. Those are kind of like a microcosm in the world. It’s worse. Like cliques and wanting to be a certain way. They want it to be set and you can’t get it out of it. [Even] the way I perceive things or how I think about things changes, too. That’s apparent in my writing, too. I don’t always write horror, sometimes I write romance. Sometimes I write slice-of-life minimalist work. When you think about it, it could be cool because then you could touch a wide audience but people don’t want that. They want you be in a certain genre. They want you to write a certain way.
J: And it kind of erases the very nature of the person that you are.
S: I’m pretty sure at one point Stephen King wanted to write some action or something like that.
J: But people told him he was a horror writer.
J: Do you think it’s there’s still a chance for people with small followings to build [their careers] without having to get a boost from someone with a big name or is it too late for that?
S: Honestly, this might sound really negative, but you need a boost from a bigger person. Or you need to have a brand. This Instagram shit is kinda like a job. You have to know specifically what it is you want to do and you have to keep doing that specific thing.
J: So, in your opinion, even in the age where things like The Pulp Zine, Rookie, Art Hoe, Coalition, all of these things, we still inevitably need to rely on those in power to get to where we need to be?
S: That’s a hard question because I wanna say we don’t. We DON’T, but it’s gonna take a lot for [not needing them] to even be true.
J: That we don’t need them but it’ll help a lot of we do have them?
S: Like, we CAN survive without these big publications, but it has to be some sort of solidarity but right now it’s not happening. Like if we was to all generate money between us, we could be self-sufficient without these big publications, but…
J: It’s just not happening.
S: It’s just not happening.
J: So what would you think we have to do in order to get to that place?
S: Definitely to work together. I think one thing is, we gotta let go of these white supremacist notions, these misogynistic notions, these transmisogynist notions, these anti-Black notions and work together. ‘Cause a lot of these online publications, they exploit us. They like our message. They like our angry little political or radical whatever-the-fuck message but they really don’t care at the end of the day. We’re not revolutionary. We’re not radicals. We’re just people who want our art to be appreciated and seen. We want to make money off of it. We want to live off of our art. We want to live doin’ the things we love and we can’t do that.
J: So ideally, the best thing to do would be to stop investing in these publications and instead invest [in each other].
S: Yeah. I mean, these publications do generate a lot of money and instead of taking that money and putting into these artists, they’d rather exploit. The way artists make money is through galleries, is through selling our prints.
J: Taking the online and putting it offline.
S: Yeah. If you like what we do, invest in us so we can generate. Making us work for you and giving us measly dollars, what is that gonna do? We wanna do gallery openings and events and pay the artists we showcase. I’m tired of it. If you’re really for us, put your money in us. Invest. Grants, PLEASE. [laughs].
J: What do you think is the most important thing about you that people should know?
S: I’m very weird.
S: No, I want people to know that I’m very weird and I’m not pretty all the time. Check out for my book next year [laughs]. I grew up with a developmental disability and it made me this weird person who’s not normal. I stare, I space out. I may have to ask you to repeat this over and over again. Sometimes you could be talking to me and I could hear you and I won’t understand a word. These things stop me from being a normal person and honestly it took me such a long time to accept me for who I am and now it’s like I DON’T GIVE A FUCK and I don’t understand you and it’s okay. Just, what you said again? [laughs]. I’ve been so afraid to ask question and ask people [if they] can say it again.
J: Because you don’t want people to think you’re unintelligent.
S: But my mom told me something very interesting. She was like, “When people get mad at you because you ask them to repeat stuff, it’s not because they think YOU stupid. It’s because they probably think THEY’RE stupid and it’s their issue and it’s not an issue with you.” Ever since she told me that I was like “okay!”
J: That’s so true. I’m always like “oh crap, did I say something wrong?” That’s very wise of your mother. Do you have any advice you wanna give anybody who might be reading this or any young black [writers] who are trying to do what they want to do.
S: Well, I’mma make this specifically for black [writers] because we tend to get left out of the artistic field. We’re artist at the end of the day. Journalists, fiction writers, poets. What I have to say is: don’t lose your style in order to be consumable. I have a certain writing style that’s very odd. It’s very visual, it’s very poetic, but that’s how I write and I’m never gonna change it ’cause I know there’s someone out there… This is what Frida Kahlo said. She said, “I’m very weird but I know there is someone out there who is just as weird,” and that’s why I will never change who I am essentially as a person ’cause I know there’s someone out there who is weird just like me and who is going to appreciate it. My work is for them.
Sandra’s book Dark Matter is now available on Amazon.