By Raven Jordan
Author, and human and civil rights activist Kevin Powell made a stop in Dallas on Apr. 10 as part of the tour for his 16th book, The Kevin Powell Reader: Essential Writings and Conversations.
This latest read is a collection of essays, interviews, blog posts, poems and more from the past few decades of his writing career. The book, which was released on Apr. 4 from Akashic Books, also includes Powell’s account of the COVID pandemic and George Floyd’s untimely death and the following protests.
The writings range across his time on MTV’s The Real World, writing for VIBE, the AIDS and crack epidemics, the explosion of hip hop, the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and more.
In an interview with Dallas Weekly, Powell spoke about his encounters with leading figures that left lasting impressions, addressing racial inequality and more. He also discussed a book of poetry he released last year.
“It’s poetry, essays, cover stories on people like Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Kerry Washington and Tupac Shakur. And it’s a couple of speeches, a couple of letters,” Powell says. “I wanted to put together a book that not only encompassed my 30 plus years of writing professionally, but also show that I’ve always valued writing.”
Powell nods to poet Langston Hughes when it comes to how he wanted to model his writing journey when he first started out. Like Hughes, he wanted to be able to write anything, he says.
The first entry in the book comes from 1983 when Powell submitted his first essay for a writing competition. It was his first published piece, and it focused on the United States public schools.
Racial inequality ties into many of his pieces, from Hurricane Katrina to police brutality.
“I can be someone who’s an advocate and someone who will fight for social justice, and sometimes there’ll be a rally, a protest, a march,” he says. “When Katrina happened in New Orleans, I was like, “I gotta go there as a writer and make sure I capture the voices of what’s happening because the media is bugging out, making it feel like people are just stupid because they didn’t leave, ignoring the fact that some people didn’t even have cars.”
Powell pointed out the emotional challenges of living in New York at the height of the pandemic and the George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery deaths and protests.
“I remember 2020 and that brother Ahmaud Arbery got shot just for jogging. And I’m like, that could have been me. I’ve been that person running in different places and people look at me like I was crazy because I was Black.”
The book also recounts some of his favorite moments in conversations with Tupac, Stacy Abrams and Dave Chapelle (when he quit his show) and a tribute to Chadwick Boseman.
Out of all the writing he’s done, Powell says poetry has his heart. He’s drawn inspiration from poets like Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. He returned to poetry once his mother got sick, which led to the poetry book, Grocery Shopping With My Mother.
“I’m proud of the fact that I know how to be a news reporter, I know how to write the profiles of people, but poetry — I’m so glad to come back to it.”
Powell will share some of the poetry from Grocery Shopping with my Mother and sign copies of the book during the event hosted by Dallas Weekly at Urban Arts Center at 7 p.m., Apr. 10.