KOMUNYAKAA: On my desk here I have the ” of Bill GatesHow to avoid a climate catastrophe.” Coming from Louisiana, I’m interested in climate change. I love that there is practicality to Gates’ book. It is not just an abstract theory. This morning I was here reading Hemingway’s”The sun also rises.” When I read Hemingway, I think of the fact that he wrote poetry. It has a lot to do with how elementary his short passages are.
BOOKS: Were you primarily a novel reader or a poetry reader?
KOMUNYAKAA:I guess when I picked up James Baldwin”nobody knows my name“In a small library when I was 14, I was curious about literary essays. I had never read anything like it. But I had already started reading poetry, especially the work of James Weldon Johnson and his anthologies.
BOOKS: Who do you currently read for poetry?
KOMUNYAKAA: I was really amazed by the “100 poems to break your heart.“It really is a beautiful book. I read a lot of contemporary works.
BOOKS: What are your other recent discoveries?
KOMUNYAKAA: Let me see. I keep my books in my bed, on one side, maybe seven or so. A book I read is “Outwardsby poet Ed Pavlic on the work of Adrienne Rich, on the role of loneliness in her. I also have “Something Indecent: Poems Recommended by Eastern European Poets” by Valzhyna Mort.
BOOKS: What are the other books on your bed?
KOMUNYAKAA: I read again “John Coltrane: his life and his musicby Lewis Porter. It reconstructs her life and shows how she influenced certain musical passages by Coltrane. A friend gave me this novel, “girl, girl, Grrrl: On Femininity and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magicby Kenya Hunt. I really like this subtitle. I also have “The Poetry of Capital: Voices of Twenty-first century America», in which I have a poem but I have never read the collection. There is also “Black, White and Jew: Autobiography of a Changing Self», an autobiography of Rebecca Walker, who is the daughter of Alice Walker.
BOOKS: How do you choose what to read from the stack?
KOMUNYAKAA: I catch myself reaching out and grabbing something. I usually read before I go to sleep, but if I can’t sleep, they’re right there.
BOOKS: Did you grow up in a house full of books?
KOMUNYAKAA: I do not have. My mom bought these little encyclopedias from A&P, and she also had a viewfinder with these great pictures. It was like taking a ride, especially on a rainy day. We would go to Mammoth Cave or Mexico.
BOOKS: Did you read at all when you served in Vietnam?
KOMUNYAKAA: I just picked up a novel called “Five smooth stonesby Ann Fairbairn and an anthology of American poetry. I don’t even know why I took this. Most people didn’t bring any books. I read and reread the anthology of poetry. I read a few poems in the evening, then I tried to fall asleep with these images in the psyche. I felt like the poetry was still doing its job even while I was sleeping.
BOOKS: Which poets do you read the most?
KOMUNYAKAA: I always come back to Robert Hayden. He is so important to me. I feel so connected to his last poem, “American Journal”, in a strange way. I have also read Seamus Heaney, Derrick Walcott, Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich. There are so many that you want to go on and on.
BOOKS: Is there an author you would like to read that you haven’t met?
KOMUNYAKAA: I do not think so. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s scary to say how long.