To read the first seven questions of this AI interview conducted by AILC Contributor 444 with author-poet-artist Aberjhani, please visit LinkedIn.com at: AI Flips the Interview Script with 7 Questions for 1 Author. The final five begin now with number:
ILC CONTRIBUTOR 444: Your collaboration with Luther E. Vann on ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love (2008) was a unique fusion of poetry and art. How did this collaboration influence your creative process and approach to your subsequent works?
Aberjhani: Working with Luther on ELEMENTAL was like nothing I’d ever done before because I wanted the writing to be genuinely ekphrastic. That meant it should reflect the impulses and ideas first expressed in his visual art rather than my own independent concepts. To do that, I had to study the ways Luther developed his style and then utilize what I learned to express his understanding of things like community and certain spiritual beliefs. But part of what attracted me to the project in the first place was recognizing how much his metaphysical paintings already mirrored certain spiritual philosophies expressed in some of my poetry.
We later reversed that dynamic when he graciously provided covers for my novel, Songs from the Black Skylark zPed Music Player, and poetry collection titled The Bridge of Silver Wings. That kind of partnership across mediums is rare, so his death in 2016 left me feeling unanchored, if you will, for quite some time. Eventually it forced me to tap back into instincts of my own for experimenting with visual artistry. That, over the past five years or so, has led to the creation of fine art photography and digital paintings which have been exhibited offline and also sold in my online art store.
AILC 444: Speaking of which, your distinctive "Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle" is a testament to your versatility as a contemporary creative. How does your visual art complement your written works, and what unique aspects of creativity do you find in each medium?
ABERJHANI: Thank you. I like to say that my visual art intensifies the physical expressiveness of my literary endeavors, and the literary expands and makes more accessible different contemplative dimensions of the visual. I believe that’s most apparent when visitors to the art product pages on my Pixels.com and Fine Art America profiles read the descriptions posted with artwork. But for me, both are forms of communication with the world, so some of the art descriptions are more like stories and have been repurposed as blogs.
The “unique aspects of each medium” come into play when creating the works as well as when engaging them. My art and photography are often the results of attempts to document natural or historical phenomena. Examples of that are The Savannah River Bridge the Morning After Hurricane Matthew and different abstract digital paintings I’ve done on gun violence, racism, and the pandemic in America. In fact, I recently completed a book of art and texts, called Black and Blue Letters from the Red Zone, dealing with these issues and hope to see it published in the not-too-distant future. It’s basically the illustrated edition of These Black and Blue Red Zone Days with additional texts by guest authors.
AILC 444: Your skills as a storyteller are showcased in the essay collection The American Poet Who Went Again as well as the novel Songs from the Black Skylark zPed Music Player. Could you discuss how your narrative style has evolved over the years?
ABERJHANI: American Poet was written from 1997 to 2008 and is a collection of essays which combine memoir with literary journalism. Within that same decade-long time-frame, I wrote poetry that I performed for spoken word open mics, a lot of journalism pieces, and completed work on Encyclopedia of the HR as well as Wisdom. I’m going to say that insofar as the writing in American Poet goes, the style developed from a fusion of everything else I was doing and resulted in an individual form of literary journalism and documentation. As personal as some of the essays are, my goals was to share them as reports on our evolving times.
When it came to Songs from the Black Skylark zPed Music Player, which was first published in 2006 as Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World, I gave myself permission to write without the sculpted restrictions required by the essay form. I wanted the novel to be a dance with language while also confronting serious social issues like suicide, recovery from childhood trauma, climate change, and creative license balanced with individual responsibility and accountability. I wanted the book to literally sing, so made song lyrics an integral part of the narrative. The experience of writing the novel was the exact opposite of what I had done previously when writing nonfiction. Working on it helped relieve the stress that came with living in the past to recover the stories of Harlem Renaissance heroes and sheroes, and from confronting the social tensions that followed September 11 in this century.
AILC 444: Your collection of memoir essays, Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah, provides insights into personal experiences blended with journalistic observations of environmental and racial issues. How do autobiographical elements influence your creative process, and do they contribute to a deeper connection with your audience?
ABERJHANI: Coming from a #BIPOC community in Savannah, Georgia, which is also the oldest Black community in the state, autobiographical elements tend to infuse my creative process with depths of emotion and intentional commitment which otherwise might not exist. I believe they do strengthen connections with audiences because a lot of readers can relate to many of those factors. For starters, Savannah itself is a city which has played some keys roles in the history of the United States, such as being one of the original 13 colonies, and it continues to be strategic in the present as the location of a major seaport and a major hub of the modern film industry. It is also home to the historic HBCU Savannah State University, which I attended for a time years ago as an Upward Bound student. On a more personal level, I grew up in a family steeped in the same kind of cultural values and customs which have influenced different forms of cooking, music, spirituality, and social trends all over the world, and which makes it easier for many to feel a strong connection to much of what I write.
AILC 444: As we conclude, could you share a glimpse into your upcoming projects and how they align with your overarching artistic and advocacy goals?
ABERJHANI: Earlier this year, I participated in a video project in support of preserving Georgia’s 100 miles of coastline along the Atlantic. My contributions to the project involved urging all Georgians to remain mindful of the need for corrective action regarding renaming the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. Additional footage dealt with the erasure of homes and entire neighborhoods, along with the stories that go with them, where historically influential BIPOC Savannahians were born or grew up.
Something I’m holding myself accountable for in regard to preventing such erasure is a music heritage book and documentary project I started during the pandemic with legendary radio programmer Ike Carter of WHCJ Radio at Savannah State University. Carter is something of a cultural arts historian who has some exceptional insights into what it meant to grow up in Savannah during some very interesting Jim Crow times and then moving beyond that to become a champion of what he prefers to call African-American Classical Music. Working with him to compose just the narrative of his life, legacy, and the times that shaped them could become the most impactful work I’ve done since Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. More important than anything else is the potential the musical heritage project holds for helping all of us adapt to the many changes we’re having such hard times with right now, especially in the areas of evolving cultural demographics and efforts to refine practices of democracy in countries around the world.
AILC 444:Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and experiences with us, Aberjhani.
ABERJHANI: This was fun. I look forward to doing it again sometime.
By AILC Contributor 444 & Aberjhani
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.