If you're going to pick up one memoir this year, let it be debut author, Jarid Manos' Ghetto Plainsman. Don't be dismayed by the title. This is more than urban street fiction. No, this is a true story of heartache and self-discovery and empowerment that every young person and anyone of any age, gay or straight, black or white, male or female, who has ever felt they wanted to belong but didn't know exactly how or where they should do so should read.
I had the opportunity to ask this amazing author all about his memoir and his personal life's journey:
For those who have not read your beautiful memoir yet, what is your story in brief and how is it unlike any other out there?
Ghetto Plainsman is "a gritty and gripping story of one man's journey to find himself, from the rough streets of New York, where he was a drug dealer and self-loathing hustler, to America's Great Plains, where he found a similar devastation caused by man's inhumanity towards nature. In the end a broken man finds meaning and inspiration in life by seeing his connection to all forms of life. E. Lynn Harris praised Ghetto Plainsman as "heartbreaking and beautifully written with a dignity rarely seen in books today." -Lou Pizzitola, Barnes and Noble, NYC.
I wear the streets and what's left of wild nature like I wear my sense and skin. It's different from other books in that it not only puts the literature back into urban lit, but has also been called a composite of Whitman or Emerson mixed with Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas or Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. Those are very big shoes, and I'm very honored.
Also, unlike the ending of Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall, instead of throwing my arms up in the air and screaming, I roll up my sleeves and get to work. My non-profit organization Great Plains Restoration Council that I founded 11 years ago has created millions of dollars' worth of new wild prairie parks through our tough trauma-and-crisis recovery programs Plains Youth InterACTION and Restoration Not Incarceration. How long did it take you to write your memoir? And what was the most challenging moment in your gritty heartfelt journey to revisit? Ghetto Plainsman took me over 8 years to write. I need to honor the reader's time if she or he is going to come on the journey with me. I believe in literature. And so, for me that means precision writing, really getting naked, and allowing the reader to experience the story as if in real time. I can't sugarcoat! Ultimately, we get penetrated by nearly every emotion that's ever boomeranged around the world, and then realize at journey's end it really wasn't about me at all but our own journeys through this "tore up" chaotic life. The two hardest parts to write were that scene in old Times Square between the parked cars and later in the book the remembrance of my young, mindless countryboy violence against animals trapping, hunting, and fishing that was (and is) normal in rural America. The first because today I am such an accomplished streetwise cat who has earned his confidence, who can walk through any of the toughest hoods in America and at the same time can help nearly any damaged person help heal themselves and get stronger in some way, yet back then I was so drunk, so self-hating, so damaged and so powerless that I actually thought allowing people to take advantage of me was normal.
The second because, as an evolved vegan today, it was hard to revisit the raw pain I had caused to animals in my rural childhood as part of "normal" life. (In some ways it was like I had lived an America of the late 1800s, even using tin buckets and washtubs.) I did love nature greatly, even back then in my own unformed way, but I still killed.
And the details of some moments of the killing of animals, of what some people today still think of as normal and fine are too painful to bear. Sarah Palin on TV may rip out the still-beating heart of a halibut and laugh as she squeezes it to make it beat harder, but as someone who has seen how hard animals don't want to die, I don't think that is funny at all.
Your life story is not a Hollywood high-concept novel or memoir, what challenges did you encounter getting published?
I didn't write Ghetto Plainsman for people who want a quick, frivolous, drive-thru experience, I wrote it for people who want to go deeper into their own lives as part of the American story. And the American story is particularly the story of people on the land, whether it's the searing pavement or the struggling soil. Temba House Press is a small press that focuses solely on serious urban literature, and it's a good fit. That's the key -- finding the good fit.
What advantages and disadvantages are there in getting published by a smaller publisher?
Advantages for me are you build relationships, and you work with somebody who wants to go the distance in building up a book, establishing it in American literature rather than hoping to make a splash in six months and then being done before you even have time to build a constituency. The disadvantages are less resources, infrastructure, marketing, and connections.
You seem to have this positive aura that causes people, who have no business doing so, to want to rally behind you and help you. What do you think it is about your story that has triggered this response?
Haha... wow. Honestly, it's not about me, it's my message that our lives are not just for ourselves, and that you can have the most exhilarating life by getting healthy and giving back. Even in the midst of burgeoning collapse, as we are surrounded by so much suffering, sorrow and loss, I am showing how we can carve out the richest, most beautiful life, how we can not only stop the door from closing on us and extinguishing our future but actually begin forcing that door open a little. Your next breath, your next tension of muscles in the duress of good labor, might ripple across the next 5,000 years. We produce, and we show tangible proof -- the audacity of hard work.
I think people are starting to feel that we're all on this never-ending merry-go-round of mindless rhetoric and platitudes. Just the same old words that are meant to be inspirational but are starting to sound like pablum.
Instead, I get shit done, and it is some grueling, hard-core, results-based immersion work. We're the works part of "faith and works".
Due to your sexual abuse in the past, when people ask you point blank-- whether you consider yourself straight, bisexual or gay, how do you honestly answer?
I'm really just a normal dude. I just happen to be same gender on the inside. I'm so busy with my work to save our youth and Prairie Earth it doesn't really come up.
What lessons did you learn from your experience that you take with you as a father?
Because I was so alienated that even joining a gang would've been like living the Brady Bunch life, I endeavor to allow my son and other youth a full, very clear-eyed 360 exposure of things and ideas. I show how to process and adapt immediately. I allow an experience and understanding of the real world as it really exists with all its dangers -- and potential. And, especially important, as a father and a youth worker I make sure to give strong, well-designed influences. Without careful influences, a young child will be devastated by life, and likely lost. I especially appreciate Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do style of martial arts.
You're undeniably approached by women as being attractive, did you feel the pressure to expose your good looks in order to sell more books?
Not really to sell books. I love women. And that's a flow that is natural. It's true, I've had sex pressure for so many things from so many people male and female my whole life, and yes a lot of times there is that underlying position of power stuff that seems to be pressing me for more attention if I want to get something done, and sometimes it seems like (groan) not again, but with my book, it's been all good.
I love to look good, but that's just part of my loving to be healthy, vital and alive. I am a good friend. And a very hard worker. People should allow me to be those two things.
Your heritage is of mixed race as is your son. When your son asks you, "What are we?" as far as your ethnic background, what do you tell him? And do you feel the pressure to lean toward one side or the other?
I don't exist inside boxes. I break stereotypes. We are human. I am racially profiled and stopped, harassed, questioned in the streets and airports by the law more than anybody I know. People are always wanting you to be who they want you to be, so yes, there is pressure, from all sides, but when isn't there, about everything? So I just let people think whatever they want anymore. My heritage may be Afro-Mediterranean and thousands of years definitely resonate through me, but really I need to focus on saving prairie dogs and kids.
You were able to get an endorsement from E. Lynn Harris before his passing. How did that come about and what does it mean to you to have done so?
It's sort of a funny/sad story. Talia Dancer was interviewing him as his book tour passed through Fort Worth and she gave him an advance copy of my book. He found me on the Internet and hit me up and wrote: "This is elynn harris. A young lady gave me your book yesterday. Today coming from Dallas to Albuquerque I finished it. Amazing! Awesome! I would like to talk to you real soon guy." I rolled my eyes and thought, oh no, not another big ol' big ol' telling me some b.s. Because I've flown from DFW to Albuquerque and the flight is 1 hour and 45 minutes, and my book is 400 pages long.
But I overlooked it and we became friends, even though he got mad at me when I was in Miami and he was blowing up my texts (he loved to text) and I told him we were friends and that should be enough. But he wrote a nice blurb for Ghetto Plainsman.
It was only after he passed that I found out he didn't fly, that he had taken the train to Albuquerque, which takes a long time, so when he'd written that he couldn't get my book out of his head, he was actually saying the truth. He actually had read it...
I just looked over the emails he wrote. It's clear that at the end of his life he was very lonely, that touring was hard on him, and that he felt bitter toward dudes even while pretending to brush them off and not care. R.I. P. you Big Ol' Big Ol'.
Where can we get a copy of your book?
Barnes and Noble, some independent bookstores nationwide, and Amazon. I am touring through the end of Spring Semester 2011, so anybody who wants us to come to your city please contact us or check the schedule at ghettoplainsman.com. I love the opportunity to meet people, for us to forget everything we've been conditioned to think and have a real conversation.