My favorite musician is Esperanza Spalding. I remember my dad walking out of Border’s bookstore one day with a CD that he popped in the player. Each track filled my ears with combinations of sound and melodies and syllables and timings I had never heard before. Esperanza was an artist for which to hear her was to know her; you knew Esperanza by her music because her music was her. She wrote it; she sang it; she played it. And it was evident through Esperanza’s music and song structure that her spirit was free as the breeze and her voice was as clear as a wind chime and her songwriting–from my eleven year old point of view and my sixteen year old point of view, too–was God’s breath into Adam’s flesh. Esperanza expired and I was inspired. And Esperanza Spalding inspired me to make three crucial decisions. The first was to go to Berklee College of Music’s Five Week Program (and also audition for the jazz vocal ensemble there), because that was her alma mater. The second was to start learning how to play bass. The third was to start singing and writing and playing jazz music. And all three of these things I now consider to be of the core of my being; and all three of these things are due to Esperanza.
My two favorite magazines are Clash and Native. Native is a local Nashville magazine which colorfully relates the best local restaurants, and interviews local artists (visual, musical, and verbal), and spotlights any cultural and artistic feature of the city they deem fit. I love reading Native not only because it gives me a great pride in my city, but also because of the way the magazine is written. Every article in every issue is written like fiction. It describes interviewees as fantastically as characters. Reading their articles, it’s easy for you to slip off into that crevice where your conscious mind curls up for a cat nap while you’re reading some dumbfoundingly enthralling fiction. That’s the effect Native elicits from its readers: pride and coziness in your little crevice of the world.
My second favorite magazine is Clash. Clash is an international cultural magazine mainly focusing on music and film. Clash is known most readily for iconic and dynamic front covers. The covers are always photographs of a featured artist, and what’s especially striking is that the photograph always, always is somehow totally representative of the artist’s identity and the music that they make. I wouldn’t compare seeing the covers to seeing sound, but I do imagine that looking at the artists on the covers would be something like looking at the artist and seeing their aura.
My favorite book is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I read it one spring as a sophomore, and it was my first voluntary step outside the Young Adult Fiction aisle. Needless to say, once I read this book, I never missed that aisle again. It was also the first book I had ever read by a poet. As a sophomore, although I loved poetry very much, I considered myself more of a fiction writer. The Bell Jar had much to do with tipping my literary bias balances in the favor of poetry.
My favorite poet is Gwendolyn Brooks. I first learned about Mrs. Brooks at the Rhodes College Summer Writing Institute. We read “the mother.” Her voice and her style were singular, so I studied and loved and imitated her until I, as a free verse poet, could stand on my own two feet. During the course, I wrote a response poem to “the mother,” and I tried my best to mirror the style I so admired. When I returned to school, I ordered her anthology Blacks to the school library. For Christmas that year I asked for an CD of Gwendolyn reading her poetry, since there weren’t many recordings online. And when I took my car to the carwash, I put my Gwendolyn Brooks CD in my glovebox and turned the key in the lock as if it were something someone would take. I, of course, didn’t notice I did so until a passenger so poignantly pointed the funny fact out to me. I had been caught Gwen-handed, and it was hilarious. Afterward I thought about why I tried to lock up my CD. And although I knew no one can take poetry from anyone, I decided that it was because her voice on that CD was thunderclap and it was soft rain and it was singular and it was mine. Gwendolyn Brooks was my muse and my sole poetic inspiration for months. I would not have known who to look to if not her.