When taking the stage at the Poetry Project reading on October 24, Jackie Wang is wearing a neon leotard. She reads a series of poems that bring to mind dark and chilling imaginary dreamscapes, perhaps of Jackie’s childhood dreams. But in her presentation she carries the room like she’s the audience's fairy godmother, her soothing voice reminding us we’re safe with her.
In her writing as in her speech, Jackie Wang is like an old, wise grandmother but with the demeanor and liveliness of a young woman. She dresses in bracelets and accessories that I can only assume are relics or gifts from friends and lovers, and she seems plagued with worries. Yet she easily laughs off any offense, and always has loads of thoughtful advice in store.
Jackie Wang is a writer, poet, musician, and academic whose writing has been published by Lies Journal, Semiotext(e), HTML Giant, BOMBlog, along with numerous zines, such as those by the Moonroot collective. Her essay “Against Innocence” provides insightful analysis on penal and race theory. Her blog, Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns, reads like a journal that explores writing as process, the personal as political. She’s currently writing a book for Semiotext(e).
Originally from New Port Richey, Florida – “people call it New Port Nowhere” – Jackie moved to Cambridge, MA this fall to start a PhD program in African and African-American Studies and History at Harvard University. I met up with Jackie to talk about how she became a writer, how feminism and radical politics has fueled her, her brother’s incarceration, writer’s block, and how she ended up at Harvard.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
In middle school, I decided that I wanted to be a music journalist. I taught myself HTML so I could make band fan sites, and my dad would take me to shows. In high school I was the editor for the entertainment section of my school newspaper. I would get free concert tickets, free CDs, and I would interview bands and write music reviews.
I wrote to the music editor of weekly newspaper in Tampa, Florida. I remember writing him, saying, “I want to be a music journalist when I grow up! What do I have to do?” I don't even know how I figured out the logistics of it. I would contact the bands' PR agencies, send them clippings, and would tell them the circulation of the publications I was writing for. I would write for local magazines and online music magazines too.
Did you get money for it at the time?
Probably not? I did make money doing a few freelance gigs for a local magazine but it was mostly the drive. It's confounding to me now – what the hell was I doing? I remember watching Almost Famous with my dad and him saying, “Oh that's you!” Cause I was chilling with all these bands.