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The Interview: Hanif Abdurraqib

What the world needs now ... is more Hanif Abdurraqib. And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Hanif’s essays pivot from [...]
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What the world needs now … is more Hanif Abdurraqib.

And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Hanif’s essays pivot from pop culture to cultural politics naturally, but suddenly—like a Barry Sanders spin move—deftly weaving the experience of today’s black man and how his experiences separate from the shared nostalgia of the white world around him. He goes from Ferguson to Jersey, a Springsteen concert overlapping with Mike Brown’s murder. The NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl halftime show, in his words, are given entirely new value and meaning. There’s few people that can talk about pro wrestling and emo and race and inequality with equivalent credibility. He’s Lester Bangs and Kevin Powell and Stephen A. Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

He’s a new narrator in a world that is always threatening to lose the plot.

And best of all, he’s ours.

Now, much more of the world gets to share the little black nerd in the Ohio hoodie with us, but when he shows up on MTV.com, or Pitchfork,  or when They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us gets dap in Oprah Magazine and on NPR, we’re not just celebrating him, but Two Dollar Radio for publishing it, and for every little local mention in it to get a little more light.

I love the chapter about Iverson and the night he crossed up Jordan. He seems a touchstone for the shared, but very different experience between white and black folks in America. Why is he so compelling to you?

I never had NBA aspirations, but I remember trying to model my subpar game after his. Practicing crossovers on leaves that had drifted to the ground on the basketball court near my house. He also refused conformity at a time when the NBA was trying to force players into a box. It’s hard to imagine now in the post-David Stern era. Players have more freedom over how they express themselves. LeBron James called the president a bum on Twitter and the NBA didn’t even blink in his direction. I love that, in part because I imagine Allen Iverson would have thrived in this era of expression. When the NBA enforced its dress code and told him to wear a suit, he stood up for himself. He said “No. Where I’m from, we wear jewelry and baggy jeans and you aren’t going to make me forget where I come from.” He paid literal thousands in fines, just to keep his hood close.

You’re dressed more like Iverson. So are CEOs. So was Mike Brown. How has fashion and its place in the language of race changed?

I don’t know if it has, really. I mean, I still walk into most rooms and I’m black first—no matter what I have on. For the first time in my life, I don’t own a tie. I have some blazers and a few nice shirts, but I don’t own a tie. If I’m home, I spend at least 40 percent of my week in sweatpants. I’m saying all of this to say that it’s the things we cannot take off that most define us when the stakes are at their highest, or most violent.

Much of your work strikes at the duality of a place like Columbus, like Bexley. When did that start to crystallize in your head, in ways you now express in your work?

I think maybe around my mid-late 20s, I became interested in what it is to love a place that doesn’t always love you back. And then, of course, what it is to love a place as a type of replacement for loving the people inside of that place. I’m still figuring that out, and I think a lot of my work is always reaching towards an unraveling of that. If there is to be injustice on every land—if the very obtaining of this land we’re all on was an injustice from the start (Christopher Columbus statue still looming downtown as we speak,) then how do we reconcile our places here? How can we best honor where we live and how we live and the people we’re sharing all of this living with? I don’t have an answer to any of that, which is great. Which is what keeps me writing and eager. Not to find answers to how to best live in a place I still work to love, but to find new ways to complicate this place that I love, and see if I can still find it within myself to love it as all of its complications are laid bare.

What’s the place in this town that still feels like “old” Columbus?

I think I have lots of old Columbuses, really. I love to pop over to the Junior’s Tacos food truck, even when I’m not that hungry. I’ll purchase a taco, sure. But I mostly just appreciate the lively conversation. The way laughter can shake the trees there. Everything at Resch’s Bakery on the eastside is still so inexpensive, almost as it was when I would go there in my younger years. If you are lucky, you can find some change in your car and walk out with a donut. I also love that you still have to take a number upon walking in. There’s something about that anticipation that I love—looking at your number and watching the screen slowly tick in the direction of your coming blessings. On the right day, I see Goodale Park as I saw it in my late teens and early 20s. Those days have become few and far between, but sometimes if the sun leaks through the trees in the right spot, it feels like I’m there, back on a blanket with my pals. I will call it Crew Stadium for as long as I can, and I believe that is a vital part of Old Columbus. I don’t know what will become of our beloved Crew, and I don’t know what will become of the stadium. But I have felt alive there more times than I have almost anywhere else. I still like to slip into a booth at Tommy’s Diner when I can. The Book Loft makes me unbearably anxious, but for some reason, my phone doesn’t get service inside of it. And so I enjoy walking into that anxious invisibility for a spell. On the blacktop of what used to be Fifth Avenue Elementary School, there’s a haphazardly drawn and colored map of the United States. My class drew it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It’s maybe the only thing on the school grounds that has endured, save for the rusting playground accoutrements. That is my favorite bit of Old Columbus. A thing tattooed on a corner of the city’s ground from when I was small.

Of the new bits, what are the places you feel are an organically good addition to the city?

I’m obviously biased, but I love the new Two Dollar Radio store. I’m starting a monthly series there in February called “Ships At A Distance” where I pair two black artists of different disciplines and have them perform brief sets before being in conversation with each other. I think that’ll be really fun, and I love that the space is open to doing that. It has to be remembered that I just moved back home in April, and so I’m readjusting to the city as we speak. Still—it’s not brand new, but I love Si Senor. Best sandwich spot in town, for my money. The one in Grandview is not only great, but also very forgiving of the fact that I often burst in 30 minutes before they close, because I’ve lost track of (or poorly managed) my time. Since I’ve been here 95 percent of my life, “new” is kinda relative. Sole Classics isn’t brand new, but it’s newer than what I consider Old Columbus to be. And as a committed sneakerhead, I really value having one of my favorite sneaker spots walking distance from my apartment. I do think there are a lot of good organic additions, and I’d like to see more places and people holding hands with existing communities they move into, and not just trying to rush ahead in the name of some vague idea of “improvement.” I like places like Sole Classics and Spoonful Records because it feels still very community-based. I can go in these shops and have conversations with the people working there. It can feel like a city inside of a city.

Who inspires you in this town?

There’s a long list. I’m inspired by the Black Pride 4, and by young black activists. I hope to see the work of activism continue to be pushed here, and I hope to see it led by young black folks, queer black folks, black women, and intersections of all those identities. I’m really heartened by the idea of looking to people younger than me to light the way. I’m not all that old, but I am old enough to know that there is something exciting happening inside of the way young activists are looking at the world, and it serves me to get out of the way and support them how I can. I’m inspired by Scott Woods and the work he’s done (and continues to do) to bridge gaps in the black artistic community here. I’m inspired by Will Evans, who built Black Nerd Problems out the city and took it worldwide. I’m inspired by all of the Two Dollar Radio folks, and how they created and sustained a vision. But, beyond that, I’m inspired by my friends here. My dear friends who live in this city, and have lived in this city, and who have found a way to make the most out of living and loving here. Who will come over to my house for a movie night and make a late night UDF run with me and sit with me in a diner booth. I’m really inspired by the folks who have lived here for a long time and still decide to make the most of it, even through their sighing on some days. On my walk to the gym every day I’m in town, I walk by the old Union Station arch in the Arena District. And when you see something magnificent every day, it’s easy to forget its magnificence. One Saturday, I was walking by it and a guy was just standing in front of it, marveling at it and taking pictures, smiling as wide as he could. Because this is generally what tourists do upon seeing it, another passerby approached him and asked the guy if it was his first time in the city. The guy replied, “No, I live here. I can just never get over how cool this thing is.” I think that guy inspires me the most.

I feel like you’re the kind of person who has a personal timestamp for all these moving moments in pop culture. Can you think of a few that you haven’t written about?

Oh, absolutely. I will now always remember climbing the steps to an arena to watch what would be one of Tom Petty’s last shows. I remember being very young when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. But more importantly, I remember the bus ride to school the next day. Back when buses played the radio on the ride to school, and WVKO had KC Jones on the morning show, and he was just so stunned that Tyson was knocked out. I remember not really understanding the weight of it all until hearing KC Jones on WVKO the morning after. I think all of the time about KC Jones, and how Columbus morning radio shaped me when I was younger, because it was all that got played on the bus to school. Shoutout to KC Jones, a legend.

Do you remember where you were when you found out about Trayvon? Tyre? Eric Garner? Mike Brown? Marshawn McCarrel?

I do, and there’s a series of pieces in my book about the murders of Trayvon, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice. Marshawn was really difficult for me. I lived in Connecticut at the time of his death, and my then-partner came upstairs to my office to tell me that she saw news floating around that Marshawn had killed himself. Finding out about death in the moment is always difficult, for me. I have had to endure that so much that I’ve kind of made an accelerated processing mechanism—going from disbelief to acceptance in mere minutes. I remember that on my desk in my office, I had some kind of red candy. I used to always eat candy when I wrote—a habit that I just broke this year. I stared at the candy for a long time, I think because when I saw Marshawn alive last, he had on a long red shirt. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and we hugged. It was an awkward hug, balancing both love and the tension that exists when you haven’t spoken to someone you love in a long time. I want to remember him like I knew him best, always. He was so immensely gifted. He was a better and more eager writer than poets twice his age. He’d come into the Method Gallery for the Writing Wrongs open mic and kick some shit that would make me not want to follow him. He was flawed, but singular. Like all the best of us are.

Purchase They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us at twodollarradio.com. For more of his work, visit abdurraqib.com.

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People

Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

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Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

https://twitter.com/mariawsyx6/status/1228415062051819520?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fabc6onyourside.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Fformer-ohio-state-nfl-running-back-opens-new-chapter-as-a-columbus-firefighter

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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People

The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper

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Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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Arts & Culture

The Interview Issue: Author Saeed Jones

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Saeed Jones has traveled across the country promoting his new memoir and chosen Columbus for his own next chapter.

Author and new Columbus transplant Saeed Jones finally has a break after wrapping up his 16-city tour to promote his new memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. It’s a book that isn’t solely about his past, but is designed as an earnest conversation with readers. The book succeeds Jones’ previous poetry collections and a stint as Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, and is already receiving numerous honors and highly- publicized acclaim.

“It took a long time to write the book, almost a decade. So, I had a lot of time to think about writing it [being] one thing, but when you publish it, it becomes something different. I tried not to think so much about other people and the audience, but I think I trusted that if I could write to myself sincerely [and] candidly, that would be a bridge for other people,” he said. “It’s like you’re encountering someone when they just had a transformative experience. Something that’s really important for me in my writing is the cost of silence and the ways we silence ourselves. I think it’s powerful—as a writer, with the fortune I’ve had in my career—for people to be like, ‘I’m going through it’, and for me to be one more person who goes, ‘Me too.’”

Though some authors intend to tell their stories later in life, Jones wanted to focus his story on the time period from his upbringing in Texas through his mid-twenties to capture a specific ethos that informed his narrative. Concerned that segments of his life would become deemed irrelevant to readers, he found the immediacy of the news sparked him to publish the book sooner than later. Soon after Jones considered writing in detail about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which shifted the LGBTQ+ conversation, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred.

“Whenever I would get a little hard on myself about the book’s intentions, it felt like America would go, ‘We gotta do this now,’” Jones said. ”Everything’s not perfect but a lot has changed from 1998. [While writing,] I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be a perfect book, but it’s gonna be the book that I want and need now.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After his mother’s passing in 2011, Jones is attentive to their relationship in How We Fight for Our Lives, endearingly dedicating the book to her even after a moment of uncertainty that occurred when he came out. In spite of having a vibrant relationship with his mother, Jones jokes that the two weren’t able to naturally discuss sexuality. Promoting the memoir before Thanksgiving, Jones mentions that some LGBTQ+ readers confided in him about their own awkward conversations with family.

“Sure, it’s important for us to write about clear and present danger, whether that’s police brutality, homophobic or racially-driven violence, [but] I think that it’s also important for us to pay attention to the more subtle hurts that come to define us. Sometimes those hurts are a result of failings; loved ones who just can’t support us because they’re like ‘I don’t get it’ and they kind of give up,” he said. “My mom was working two jobs, so a lot of times she was just tired. She was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t have a heartfelt conversation today, I gotta go to my second job.’ That had an impact on me, and I know that has an impact on a lot of other people in those moments. In any meaningful, long-lasting relationships—certainly family relationships—it is going to be complicated. If you don’t have multiple colors in how you’re thinking about that relationship, the truth is that something is being deadened, something is being intentionally or unintentionally ignored or silenced.”

An avid reader of works by Margaret Atwood and Audre Lorde, Jones recognizes a similar urgency from his memoir through his influence James Baldwin, admitting to reading his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room repeatedly, revisiting it at different points of his life to gain a new perspective. Identifying with different characters each time, Jones focused essentially on Baldwin’s deconstruction of queerness and social dynamics, which intersected American politics with racial identity. “[Baldwin] wasn’t going to pretend that there was this monolithic Blackness. He wasn’t just going to pretend that there weren’t Black men—who he was advocating for in terms of civil rights— who weren’t homophobic. He was like ‘We’re gonna do all this together’” Jones said. “He’s drawing from his background in Christianity, but he’s changed; he’s not practicing his faith in the same way. He [was] just doing a very good job of showing how we’re in flux and that it’s natural and better to embrace that. I feel like that set me up to start paying attention.”

Habitually enthusiastic about settling in Columbus (or what he calls “the promised land”), Jones speaks gleefully about The Great Migration and Ohio boasting essential Black authors—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Woodson, Hanif Abdurraqib and Toni Morrison. While he notes that Black authors have thrived

in Ohio through a formidable writing scene, in How We Fight for Our Lives, Jones touches keenly on the fragility of Black life. Days prior to our conversation marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Julius Tate, who was shot by Columbus police during a sting operation.

“If we’re able to villainize people we have wronged—and Julius was certainly wronged—it eases the rhetoric of brushing the wrong aside,” Jones said. “It happens so often and so much of our culture grooms all of us to move on. I’m not the one to say what justice for Julius and for Black people impacted by that violence looks like, but I would love to hear it. I have no interest in telling people to be quiet. I’m a writer, so I think a lot about editing and revision, and how you polish and the drafts you don’t want people to see. Cities are text, too.”

While Columbus continues to be a work in progress through systematic tensions, Jones is embracing the city’s tangible LGBTQ+ scene after residing in New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco. In support of the Black Queer & Intersectional Collective, he attended the Columbus March for Black Trans Women in November, where he felt a sense of cohesiveness within the city. “I feel like the march was a great example of waking me up—unsurprisingly, it’s easier for cisgender gay men to live and feel embraced here than Black trans women in Columbus,” Jones said. “The stakes are high, but it feels possible. Here it feels like, ‘start reading up, go to that march, talk to people,’ as opposed to ‘here’s the finished story.’”

With a story far from over, Jones reveals that his next life work is to write about joy to balance the scales with his past struggle within How We Fight for Our Lives. Avidly writing about pain and loss, he vows to dabble into more written frameworks outside of his comfort zone. “I feel like I’ve written about myself so damn much, maybe learning to write in other forms—fiction—would be fun. I want to learn more, I feel that’s when I’m most alive, when I’m learning and realizing that I’m learning,” he said. “That’s when I feel fully present as a person, not when I think I know the beginning, middle and end.”

Follow Saeed Jones on Twitter and Instagram at @theferocity.

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