M.K. Asante grew up in what he calls "Killedelphia," bouncing in and out of schools, hanging out in gangs, and struggling with troubled parents. Discovering a love of writing opened his eyes to new opportunities. His new book, Buck: A Memoir follows his coming-of-age story growing up in Philadelphia (Spiegel & Grau, 2013).
When introducing his book, Asante explains to Host Frank Stasio why he uses the word “Buck” to capture his memoir.
The word is so loaded in terms of its meaning. When these things happened,
when my brother’s gone, my dad’s gone, my mom’s gone. I went buck wild!
Asante’s father left the family and his mother went in and out of mental institutions. His brother landed in prison. With his family gone, Asante turned to the streets. He became completely disinterested in his education and lost friends to violence.
Asante talks Stasio about how his mother enrolling him in an alternative school following expulsion from traditional school. It was in a writing class there that he realized his own educational potential.
“A teacher puts a blank piece of paper in front of everyone and she says ‘Write.’… And I said ‘Well what do you want me to write?’ She says ‘Write anything you want,’” says Asante. “And I didn’t believe her. They want you to express yourself, but you do it and then you get in trouble. I tested the limits of course and I wrote an expletive and she looked at it and she said ‘Okay good, now keep going.’”
Before that experience, he had never known school to be a place where you could find your voice or analyze your environment. He picked up every book he could find. The pivotal moment with the blank page started a transformation into the current Asante: an artist, a author, and a scholar.
“I had always heard that it was illegal for African Americans to read during slavery, and I never understood why until I started reading. Realizing, ‘Oh my god, we think in words. We self-vocalize.’ So if you limit someone’s words and their vocabulary you also limit their thoughts,” he says.
“They can’t even think about freedom because they don’t have the language to do so. So I began to connect my own liberation in Philly with language and reading and vocabulary. I really opened my mind up, and things haven’t been the same since.”
MK Asante will appear at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh for a reading and book-signing on Tuesday, September 24th at 7:30 pm.