Britteney Black Rose Kapri is a poet, teaching artist, petty enthusiast, and Slytherin from Chicago. Currently, she is an alumna turned Teaching Artist Fellow at Young Chicago Authors. She is a staff member for Black Nerd Problems and Pink Door Women’s Writing Retreat. Her first chapbook titled “Winona and Winthrop” was published in June of 2014 through New School Poetics. She has also been published in the Breakbeat Poets volume One & Two, Poetry Magazine, Vinyl, Day One, Seven Scribes, The Offing, Kinfolks Quarterly and her number on many dive bar bathroom walls. She is a 2015 Rona Jaffe Writers Award Recipient. You can probably find her on twitter talking shit about all the things you love, in a classroom talking shit about your kids, or at a barstool just talking shit. Her forthcoming book Black Queer Hoe is set to be released September 4th, 2018. We spoke to Britteney about her book and being an artist.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
My biggest export is poetry. But I’m a playwright, essayist, a writer in general. I’m also dabbling in songwriting.
BGC: What made you start writing?
The short version of the story is that in 2nd grade I stopped speaking, basically because I was bored. Even though I had perfectly fine test scores, they put me in a special needs class where the instructors there never asked me to talk. They just had me write and write and write and I bonded with them. I ended up joining an after-school program they created called Kuumba Lynx, which is now a grassroots organization. I haven't stopped writing since I was eight years old.
BGC: What was the impetus for writing Black Queer Hoe?
I spent the past six years really focusing on myself as an educator, I’m a teaching artist at Young Chicago Authors, and I didn’t really spend enough time working on myself as an artist. I would write for shows or for something specific but not for myself or to better my craft. I read a lot and all of my friends are putting out books that I think are great, but I just really wasn’t on my shit. [YCA Artistic Director] Kevin Coval asked me what do I want out of my artist career? I always saw myself with a book and I put my chapbook out in 2014.
But a lot of people who engage with me on social media kept asking for a coffee table book of my tweets, and so that was the catalyst for this book. I looked at what tweets or social media posts people are often engaging with and how to get that to a larger platform. So most of the poems in the book started off as tweets or Facebook posts. But really, it’s that I don’t think you can be a quality educator if you’re not actually engaging in what you’re educating. So how am I teaching students to be artists and writers if I’m only writing for a gig or a slam? This was really just to get my shit back on track.
BGC: What are some of the themes that come up in Black Queer Hoe?
Intersectionality and sexuality. As a Black woman, you’re often asked to put aside parts of you for someone else’s liberation. White women want this from you, Black men from this from you. No one wants anything from queer folks except for silence. The theme in the book is that all three of these things are me. I’m a Black woman, I’m a sexually liberated woman, I am a queer woman, and if you can’t rock with all of that, then you’re not rocking with me. The book was really to talk about those things in what I consider a humorous and vulgar way because I think women are hilarious and vulgar. And I’m not a lady. Lady shit is boring. I consider myself to be a funny bitch and I wanted to write a funny bitch book and that’s what I did.
BGC: Why do you create?
Because everything around me is so chaotic. Even though I’m very well spoken and articulate and a scholarly person, sometimes I can’t get out what I want to get out unless I’m creating, whether that’s writing or painting or drawing. Sometimes something can only be expressed in a strange or abstract or different way than what is expected.
I think everyone is a creative. Some of us just embrace it more. If you’re an accountant and you just run numbers that’s cool, but if you’re trying to get a new client you have to have some showmanship, you have to sell yourself. Anytime you sell yourself in whatever business, you’re doing it as a creative. When you dress yourself, when you style yourself, when you present yourself, the way you talk, it’s all done through this creative lens, though not everybody embraces it the way poets or playwrights or muralists do.
BGC: Who is your audience?
My audience is hoodrats who went to college but don’t necessarily know why they went to college, outside of their mama saying “you either going to college or getting a job.” I’ve always been a scholarly person, I’ve always done well in school, and I love school but I also grew up in the hood. The hood is exactly who I am, it’s where I came from. Whether people can see that or not when they talk to me doesn’t matter. My roots are here and my poems are for scholars that still know what it’s like to play basketball with a milk carton or have to be in before the street lights go on. Or really even though you had an AC in our house you put a fan in the window because you couldn’t afford to turn on the AC in your house. My poems are for people like that.
BGC: Who inspires you?
Samantha Irby, who is probably my number one inspiration right now. She’s an essayist. In real life I’m vulgar and I put a lot of stock in humor but my writing up until this point really wasn’t that way. It was always straightforward but I leaned on ideas of what poetry was, and Samantha Irby was like you can be a badass writer and talk about gross shit, raw shit, exactly how you talk to your homies in a bar. And when I read Meaty I was like wow, I don’t have to sound like these other people, I can sound like me and it is a poem. If I write it and say it’s a poem, it’s a poem. Whether you see a poem in it or not, that’s up to you I don’t care, especially if you already bought the book.
I’m also inspired by Patricia Smith, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jamila Woods, Joseph Chilliams. I’m currently being inspired by two of my students right now, who are inspired by me but they’re just so much better than I was at their age. Ari Appleberry and Kennedy Harris, both from Brooks College Prep. It’s been crazy to watch their growth, but as young Black writers they’re just so dope to only be seventeen and eighteen and it makes me feel so good to see their writing and to see them embracing all of these things that it took me until I was in my late 20s to embrace.
BGC: Why is it important as a Black person to create?
Because everyone is always creating our image for us. If you leave the states people have this idea of what Black is, and particularly what Chicago Black is, and if we are not telling our stories, our stories will be told without us. It’s the same reason boxer braids exist. Extensions instead of tracks. All these ways people double talk and double speak. Erase our faces but keep our shit. If we’re not creating, then what’s being created around us is just garbage. So you have to.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
I don’t. I either go super into work mode or super into writing mode. I also have the inability to turn down projects so I take on a bunch of shit and am up at like 3am finishing a book because I know I have 17 meetings the next day and somebody else wants me to mentor them so I’m doing that. I get everything done all at the expense of my health. Balance is not my forte, I’m working on it. But I also have a really strong circle of folks around me who tell me when I need to chill out — and that’s really where my balance comes from, the folks in my life telling me “you’re burning yourself out and you’re not being the best that you can be at any of these things because your spread yourself thin between all of these things.“
BGC: Any advice for young creators/ones just starting?
There is no one path in which this happens. You can go through slam, publishing, journals, open mics, TV, YouTube. Whatever it is, there is no one path to success and if one person takes a path and it works for them and not for you that’s okay. If a door closes, you climb through the window. You dig under and go over and whatever it takes to get there, you get there. At the same time you can’t be creating if you’re not consuming what’s around you. If you’re only ever listening to yourself you’re not going to get any place. You have to be engaging in the art around you so you know where the movement’s going, what people are listening to, what people are looking for. Are you writing the exact same poem that this person is writing, and if so, is yours better? You have to engage in other folks’ art or you’re not going to get any place.
BGC: Any future projects coming up?
Black Queer Hoe comes out September 4th. I am in the very budding stages of an anthology, probably with Haymarket, but can’t give too many details about that. I’ve been sort of joking that I might want to try to get involved with stand up of some sort, but I don’t really know how outside of just roasting folks. I don’t know how to craft a joke that has a punchline unless the punchline is somebody. So if people want to sit in a room where I just talk shit about them, that I can do. But I don’t know if I can create a storyline the way comedians do, that shit’s hard, it’s a really dope skill. But I want to get involved with that as well as songwriting. I want to branch out what I’m known for as a writer.