The reason for our departure will be
splashed across newspapers, it will be investigated.
Known by all, known to everyone as the day
of our separation—noted by a day and time,
noted by a heat index. A temperature so hot
that the blue balloons of your birthday party
burst, and the helium dispersed into the air.
A time when we retreated because we confused
the popping of the balloons with gunshots. A date
remembered by few. We are absent from the body,
no longer tied, but free.
- from the poem, “The 1200 Block of Simon Bolivar” – For Brianna Allen
by Matthew Draughter
I first met Matthew Draughter at his Certificate of Artistry reading at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans. Lusher focuses on the arts and academics, giving students interested in creative writing, fine arts, music, and arts media a conservatory-style education. Matthew’s voice stood out to me, and I was included in his senior thesis defense. His bright, wise way of answering questions during the defense is also reflected in his writing. When I read his words, I hear strains of Carl Sandburg and E.E. Cummings in his poetry, and threads of Virginia Woolf and Flannery O’Connor in his prose. But these are only my impressions. His literary influences surprised me, arriving not only out of his creative writing classes, but from his interest in gender and the female voice. I love his responses and am very happy to share them here.
Photo credit: Lila Molina
Matthew, you are a native of New Orleans, and your writing is infused with a sense of place, a love of place, which in a way becomes an allegiance to the city. Can you speak a little about how your stories and poetry are influenced by the city and community? For example, in your poems, “X – a city,” about how the city was marked and marred in the aftermath of Katrina’s flooding, and “The 1200 Block of Simon Bolivar Avenue,” a tribute and a cry out for Brianna Allen, the little girl at a birthday party killed in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting in May 2012.
To be honest, when I first started writing, I thought New Orleans was boring, and I hated writing about the city. But in the past year I began to realize there was a voice here, and that voice began to speak to me. Until I put it on the page, I didn’t realize how lyrical and full of imagery that native voice was. When I started writing more and more about the city, I was able to grasp what the voice of New Orleans was trying to tell me, and that’s when the real writing came. The city began to influence many parts of my writing, and it was never so much about being aware of the setting or having a sense of place—to me it was just writing about where I’m from as it relates to where I am in my life now. It’s funny, you never know how beautiful your home is until you stop, stand back, and look at where you came from.
As it relates to my work, like “X- a city” and “The 1200 Block of Simon Bolivar,” there is a sense of tribute, but also a sense of what I’ve learned from events in the city. This past year I felt driven to find out things about myself, including the connection to my home. I love my city, and there is so much I’ve taken from all of the areas of New Orleans. Each section of the city has spoken to me, and that is where my connection comes from. These particular pieces act as homage to events that have caused tremendous loss. For “X” it was Katrina, and for “The 1200 Block” it was a murder. Both events are ones that hit the city hard, but most importantly these events touched me and made me think more about where I am really from and how much the city means to me.
I was fortunate to attend your Certificate of Artistry thesis defense at Lusher High School this past May. Your senior thesis, titled “Ways of Women,” is a very thoughtful and beautifully sequenced collection of stories and poetry, in which the female narrative voice is predominant. Tell us about how you decided to focus on this perspective, and about your purposeful use of gender in writing.
Gender roles have always been something I’ve been interested in. Whether it’s the unstoppable femme fatale, or a strong female figure. The truth is, women have always come across as more interesting characters to me. I am a male, and I know what it’s like to be one. That’s why I like writing about women. I feel that as a writer you should never be in your comfort zone, and you should always find a way to challenge yourself. I do that through gender roles. My thesis, “Ways of Women,” is a compilation of works inspired by women in my life. Through these works I’ve recognized the importance of gender roles in literature, but I’ve also discovered what has captivated me most about women. In each of my pieces there is a mystery behind the woman—that idea of secrecy is what has inspired me to focus on women, especially in stories like “Hive” and “Bonnie.” What is unknown about women intrigues me—that’s what makes me dig deeper. As it relates to my characters, I think that there are some secrets they can have, even from me. I want my literary women to be just as mysterious to me as they are for my readers. This allows me to dig and discover, but it also gives me the chance to realize when to step back.
Gender roles allow me to think more about the big picture of the work, and ultimately, what everything means as a whole. A female character can give the narrative a sense of depth that not all male characters can. It’s just more interesting that way.
In your story, “Hive,” the use of metaphorical language reveals a woman trapped in a hive of memory. Virginia Woolf inspired this piece, yes? Would you speak about the use of metaphor and the very close viewpoint of this story?
“Hive” was inspired by Virginia Woolf—specifically, Mrs. Dalloway. I was drawn to the fact that Woolf was so intimate with her characters’ points of view. The focus on her characters allows readers to enter their perspectives, their minds, even when the narrator isn’t in first person. That’s the effect I wanted in “Hive.” Through details, I gained a precision that entrapped my main character. The entrapment she feels is a product of the events from her past, and I decided to expound on that. For the point of view I didn’t want to have a first person narrator because the entrapment Charlotte feels could be extremely overbearing to readers. Third person limited gave me the chance to explore her world. Through metaphor I was able to extend the senses and the idea of how Charlotte’s memory works in the narrative. This gave me a sense of control and allowed me to find her character. I became Charlotte while I was writing this story. I had to be able to think like her; that was the only way I could create her. I also had to step away and realize there were certain aspects I didn’t want to know. This is where the idea of the “hive” came from. I wanted her to have secrets that not even I knew. When I created her memory of the bees, the metaphor came on its own. She’s a very intriguing character, and there’s a side to her that I still don’t know. As a writer, of course, you need to know your characters. But, to me, I don’t want to know them as well as some other writers know theirs. That’s why my fiction is mostly character-driven. It gives me a chance to explore and understand how far the exploration will go. In that way, the metaphor of “Hive” came to be.
Some of your stories include details such as texture and fabric. And so: raw silk, chiffon, or taffeta?
Chiffon. I like the way it layers. It just flows a way certain fabrics don’t.
Influences? Writers, artists, designers.
In fiction, Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever and Ralph Ellison, as well as Virginia Woolf. I love how their range is so different, how they have different methods of characterization. I’ve learned so much from each of these writers.
In poetry, I’m a huge fan of Anne Sexton. She’s always inspired and influenced my thoughts about structure and diction, and how they work together for a poem. And ever since I started writing, I’ve loved William Butler Yeats. Recently, my work has been inspired by contemporary poets, like Ntozake Shange, Terrance Hayes, Kevin Young, and Langston Hughes. I’ve studied and drawn from them as I’ve began to find my own voice. “X – a city” was actually inspired by Terrance Hayes. The rhythm was a response from “Blue Seuss.” I was flattered when you mentioned E. E. Cummings because I think he’s brilliant. “The 1200 Block of Simon Bolivar Avenue” wasn’t influenced by another poet; it was just me and everything I’ve ever wanted in a poem. It wasn’t a response, rather a creation of something that had been on my mind for a very long time, and I finally had the chance to write it. Something triggered that poem’s creation.
In terms of designers, I admire Chanel and Alexander McQueen. These two have changed the face of the fashion industry. I love Givenchy and Marchesa because of the construction of their designs. I love when designers take fashion risks, as that parallels the risks I take in writing. That’s why I love fashion as much as I love writing. The risks are endless, and when you mess up, you can just start over. They both seem to go hand in hand, and it’s all art—and that’s the most important thing for me.
Photo credit: Cassidy Driskel
Congratulations! You’ve graduated from Lusher and will be attending Loyola University in the fall. What are your academic plans? What are your hopes and dreams?
I plan on majoring in International Business. I feel as though college is where you find yourself, so anything can happen between now and the time I graduate. I also want to continue to pursue my writing. Loyola has great literary magazines, and I would love to have the opportunity to have my work published in one of them. After college, I would really like to work for a fashion company to see how design, writing, art, and business come together. I want to go to school for design and eventually work toward an MBA. I’ve always seen life as a book—you can decide to make it as big as Moby Dick or as tiny as a pamphlet. I see myself taking more risks, because that’s the only way I’ll ever know what works and what doesn’t.
In terms of my writing career, I won’t ever stop. It’s what I have to do. After graduation, I hit a point in time when I thought, “Now what?” I started reading like I used to, and reading always sparks my imagination. Reading and writing are counterparts: you can’t have one without the other. As long as you’re reading, your imagination for writing is stimulated. I’ll keep writing about what intrigues me, about the things I love. Eventually, I’d love to be a published writer. I’d love to have three books by the time I’m thirty-three. But for now I just want to be able to finish the story I’m currently working on. I’m going to take it a day at a time, so I’m always enjoying life and can always experience something new.
And because we love a little lagniappe in New Orleans: your favorite music?
This question makes me smile. Honestly, I appreciate all types of music. I love listening to R&B, and I like some Rap. Sometimes I just like to sit and listen to Tchaikovsky and meditate on parts of Swan Lake. Other times I like to blast Kanye West. Then there are those moments when I feel like listening to music from my childhood: Destiny’s Child, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears. No matter what, I love music that tells a story. For me, there needs to be a beginning, middle, and end. That’s why I respect artists who still create albums. Singers like Alicia Keys and Adele have songs that have layers. That’s what I feel writing should have. That’s why, for me, music and writing are synonymous.
My favorite artist of all time is Mariah Carey. All of her songs do things lyrically that other artists can’t achieve. Her albums work as units, and there’s an element that drives each song from start to finish. This is why I love all of her music. Whether she’s singing about an enduring love story, or about missing an ex, there’s a narrative. She also has an amazing voice, which makes me happy no matter what. The element that Mariah uses in her albums—the thing that drives them—that’s what I look for when I write. My favorite Mariah album, Daydream, has a summery haze that coats every song. I feel that when you write, there should be an element—a summery haze—that coats each and every piece you write in its own way. Strangely enough, that’s the album that I listened to when I wrote “Hive.”
Most recently, one of my favorite albums is Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, which I love for its cohesive body of work. From start to finish, it flows. That’s how every poem, short story, and novel should be. Each song in an album should speak to the others, just as every line of every literary work should, in turn revealing what is versatile and unique about the whole piece.
Matthew Draughter is a writer from New Orleans. He attended the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop in 2011 and received Gold Key Awards in the 2011 and 2013 Southeast Louisiana Regional Scholastic Young Art and Writing Competition in Fiction, Poetry, and the Senior Portfolio categories. He recently graduated from Lusher Charter High School, where he competed in Track and Cross Country and completed his Certificate of Artistry in Creative Writing, and will attend Loyola University in the fall.
The Poppy: An Interview Series
Four to six questions begin as pods, then burst open with answers, bright lapis,
black-stamened, conspicuous—ornament, remembrance, opiate.
This interview first posted at Hothouse Magazine.