INTERVIEW: MARYAM PUGH | PHOTO: DANIEL BARLOW
Recently, we had the opportunity to interview writer, scholar, artist and sociologist Eve L. Ewing.
Earlier this year, Eve released her debut book, Electric Arches. Throughout the book, Eve weaves her own visual art through essays and prose which “explore black girlhood and womanhood”. Electric Arches is a re-imagining of the past with a more hopeful look at the future and an honest look at the present. We’re excited and honored to have partnered with Eve on a collection inspired by this book.
Philadelphia Printworks: So, what made you decide to write Electric Arches?
Eve L. Ewing: The poems in the book go back to about 2013 or 2014. I knew I wanted to do a collection of poetry, but I was kind of just writing in lots of different directions with no clear focus. I got into a conversation with Haymarket about a book, and I had a chance to step back and really think critically about what I wanted the book to be about and how I wanted it to cohere and what the themes should be. And from there I shaped the book as it now stands.
PPW: And where does the title “Electric Arches” come from?
ELE: The original title of the book was how i arrived, and other true stories. My dear friend Nate Marshall edited the book and he nudged me to think about a title that evokes something physical or solid, something people can visualize. And he also very pragmatically suggested that I think about ease of googling when choosing a title. From there I started to imagine the world that I see the book as situated within, this kind of city that sits between the past and the present and the future, and I saw this hazy cityscape that was sort of glowing. That’s where the title comes from.
PPW: I especially love your use of Afrofuturism. What attracts you to the philosophy?
ELE: Some of it is just style and aesthetics, a visual attraction. I like the look of shiny metal things, I like things with buttons, steampunk things, robots. But moreso, I’m attracted to a mode of artmaking that requires us to lead with imagination and make space for wonder and questioning and thinking about tomorrow. I spend so much time thinking about the trials of today and yesterday and it’s so draining. I just enjoy the space to think differently.
PPW: Do you have a favorite piece in the book?
ELE: It varies, and I love them all of course, but the poem “The Discount Mega Mall: In Memoriam” is really special to me. I’m proud of what it does with a sort of simple elegance and it also reminds me of a place that’s gone, which is partly what the book is about, and it just gives me a bittersweet melancholy every time.
PPW: How did Brianna McCarthy come to illustrate the cover?
ELE: Early on in the process, I went on Twitter and asked people to recommend black women artists that they love. I got lots of names and learned about lots of wonderful new artists who I’ve since been following, and I was so captivated by her work. I’m so grateful she agreed to let us use one of her images for the cover, and I feel really connected to her and indebted to her for making the book come alive in a different way.
PPW: The book is intertwined with artwork, handwriting, and alternating text formats. What made you decide to structure the book in this way?
ELE: For much of the time I was working on these poems I was also making visual art, and I thought it would be cool for those things to be in conversation with one another. I’m lucky to have a publisher that was open to the idea.
PPW: You’re also a visual artist. What is your favorite medium?
ELE: I love silkscreening, though I don’t have a chance to do it much these days, so I’ve taken to doing a little bit of linoleum printing instead which is a little less unwieldy.
PPW: I recently heard you recite a poem on NPR’s live taping of Code Switch. How long have you been a poet? Did your roots start there?
ELE: The earliest poem I remember writing, I was 6 years old. It was a poem about my dead guinea pig and how sad I was that he died. I actually wasn’t that sad about it but I sort of played it up to make what I thought would be a better poem– rookie mistake! Never be disingenuous about your own feelings! Makes for bad poems and bad people. I guess when I was a little younger, in kindergarten, the first thing I ever remember writing was actually fan fiction. I wrote a short story starring the characters from the show Hey Dude. That was also my very last piece of fanfiction.
PPW: Recently, a petition was formed nominating you as the writer of Marvel’s “Invincible Iron Man”. How do you feel about this outpouring of support by your followers?
ELE: I feel so honored and grateful and I’m mostly glad it has spurred a conversation about storytelling in comics and how we can bring more diverse voices into the medium.
PPW: As a sociologist and prominent social media commentator, what do you think about the effectiveness of social media as a tool for activism?
ELE: I think people tend to be really hyperbolic in one way or another about the link between social media and activism and I think the answer for me is a little more nuanced. Social media is not going to be a panacea– that much has become very clear– nor should it be so handily dismissed as some people seem to think. I think one thing that matters so much is how it can bring together groups of people across time and space who otherwise might have a hard time forming broad communities and coalitions. I also think it can help build solidarity between activist movements as people have time to learn from each other. I have learned so much about struggles that are not my own through social media and I hope it makes me a more effective voice in the name of justice.