Academic journal article African American Review

"Illuminating the Darkened Corridors": An Interview with Alexs Pate

Academic journal article African American Review

"Illuminating the Darkened Corridors": An Interview with Alexs Pate

Article excerpt

The first time I saw Alexs Pate I was startled. I couldn't believe that this man--clad in a loose black shirt, jeans, steel-toed boots, and a head full of chin-length dreadlocks, carrying a black Diesel bag--was a professor. A writer. He wrote Amistad? And even more surprising, after seeing this anomalous image, was listening to his voice, which was soft, serene, even tranquil at times.

Pate, born and raised in Philadelphia, imparts his iconoclastic image onto his work. He is an innovator, clairvoyant in his observations about love, humanity, and freedom. Pate, who has published five novels and a collection of poetry in a span of eight years, breaks new ground in the realm of African American literature. He shatters stereotypes associated with African American men and the African American home with the novels Losing Absalom (1994) and Finding Makeba (1997). He probes the nature of guilt that African American men feel as a result of the societal stereotypes that mark them as villains, as outlaws in his collection of poems innocent (1998) and in his recent novel The Multicultiboho Sideshow (1999). And finally in his new novel, West of Rehobeth (2001), he introduces a young boy, coming of age into a world full of guilt and despair, who learns the importance of maintaining innocence and hope.

This interview took place on June 10, 2000, at his home in Minneapolis, MN. It delves deep into the heart of Pate's novels and poetry as it explores themes in his work such as guilt and innocence. It examines Pate's philosophies on writing, on the job of the artist, on the importance of African American male writers, and on the state of contemporary African American literature. Ultimately, it gives us a clearer understanding of the relationship between Pate's work and his attempt to stimulate positive growth and change in our world.

Link: Describe what it was like growing up in Philadelphia.

Pate: I grew up in North Philadelphia, fairly deep in the hood. I lived on a block in the middle of a lot of poverty, but I lived in an enclave where most of the people owned their houses. Everybody had cars. It was a working middle-class community. Most of the fathers in the neighborhood worked one or two jobs, at least. Most of our mothers worked, too. It was like these black people, my parents and the people that were like them, really believed in the American Dream, and they worked hard to achieve it. They also worked hard to prepare their kids educationally. It was a time where kids learned etiquette and manners. There were clubs, Boy Scouts, summer camps, and summer vacations. I remember somebody in the neighborhood would gather up all the kids once a week during the summer to go for a ride. We would drive out of the neighborhood and into the suburbs to get ice cream, or to have a change of scenery.

I had a good childhood, but it wasn't idyllic because, at the same time, I lived around a lot of gangs and gang fighting. I was constantly dodging the impact of gang violence on the streets. It was around us, but it wasn't among us. We were among it. I wasn't untouched by it, but I wasn't molded by it either. I was molded by the fact that most of my friends' families were intact. And I always had to contend with which parent was watching me because somebody's parent was always near.

My mother made me read a lot, so I spent a lot of time in my room reading. That's where I developed a love for stories. My dad and I would go to baseball games to see the Phillies play regularly. He'd play ball with me, or I'd play ball with my friends out on the streets. I sort of vacillated between being studious and being a street jock. Of course, my family had a lot of stress, usually around money, but I grew up basically like a Disney kid. There was a certain kind of innocence actually, when I think about it--even among all the chaos and violence in the community. …

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