Abdul Ali is an poet and writer whose work has appeared in The Root, the anthology “It’s All Love,” and The Washington Post. Peep our interview below for his thoughts on writing, the power of storytelling, and why literary communities are better than ‘scenes’.
DopeReads: Tell me about how you got involved in the Folio Literary Journal.
Abdul Ali: I was assigned to the literary journal as a part of my fellowship for my graduate program at American University. But I’ve been interested in literary publications for some time now. I attended Howard University as an undergrad where we had a storied history of faculty and student-led literary journals that dated back to the 1920s. I believe Zora Neale Hurston was an editor at one point.
DR: What types of writing to do you prefer, non-fiction or fiction?
Abdul Ali: I’m not sure if you’re asking about my preference as a reader or a writer. Nonetheless, as a poet, I feel somewhat biased: I try to read poetry as often as possible to stay current and to keep the muscles sharp. That said, I try to be as rounded as possible in terms of reading–I wish there were more hours in a day–but I struggle to read the Times, lots of magazines, literary journals, lots of short fiction, poems, and creative nonfiction. And occasionally, I’ll read a play before going to see it on stage. Of course, being in school makes elective reading a bit more challenging.
DR: What do you want to accomplish through your work?
Abdul Ali: That’s a good question. As I grow as a writer the answer changes. Earlier, it was important to be around writers and literary activity. I found great energy from that. And I thought it was the hip thing to do. To go to readings, get your book signed, and all that. To hear my voice out loud was very important as well–being invited to read my work felt very validating. I wanted to unearth my voice, make it mine, and make it do what I want it to do. I think that was my early project.
Nowadays, I’m interested in refining my technique, using my voice as an instrument to hit various notes as does a singer or a dramatist, and being as polished as possible with the output. I hope that my work affects people when they encounter it. Although I have many influences, I’d like for my work to stand out in some way. I really enjoy when people come up to me after a reading and they begin talking to me because my work made them feel as if a wall has been broken down. Even though we may be different for any number of reasons, the human emotion that I conveyed in my work is universal and it makes us familiar to one another. I believe it was James Baldwin who said “I want to be a good writer, and an honest man.” This is what I want my work to do also. As far as accomplishments go, I’d like to build a robust body of work across literary genres and artistic mediums that readers and non-readers will remember and read to their children. Something my daughter can be proud of when people mention that they’ve read her father’s work. Continue reading