Imani Jones immersed herself into the arts at a very young age. Growing up she experienced a myriad of things that introduced her to penning life on paper. For Jones, life has stood on the spectrum of defining one’s identity in an environment where race has made her conscious of her presence as a young black woman. Recently, we had a conversation with the artist about her battle-tested adolescence and the emergence of her artistry in college. The conversation we had is transcribed below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Flowered Concrete: Talk a little bit about your artistry. Was it a specific moment or memory? A specific experience that led you to becoming a writer? How did you get started?
Imani Jones: I’ve always been interested at a pretty young age in theater and entertainment in general. As I got older I moved further away from acting and more into writing. But I guess one of the things that inspired me to go into poetry specifically was the passing of my father. He passed when I was about 15 and it was really rough for my mother and sister. So that was kind of the start of everything.
Flowered Concrete: To play off of that first question, how has the landscape of Virginia contributed or inspired you in anyway or contributed to the development or honing of your craft?
Imani Jones: I grew up in a very predominant white area. I went to a predominantly white school. I guess I’ve kind of been inundated with a culture that’s so different than mine. And in a lot of ways I felt like the other. The only black person in the room, the only black person in my class, so I think growing up in that atmosphere has encouraged me to delve into my own culture more and in my art. It has informed my voice as a black female artist in the sense that I try to put myself first as a black female and then as an artist.
Flowered Concrete: Has education and scholarship played a part in where you see yourself going in the future and maybe even where you are now?
Imani Jones: I think struggling with a sense of double consciousness sometimes takes me a bit further away from the art because trying to be a black female artist has been stressful upon me so wrestling with that has made me more hesitant to put myself out there. But the consciousness from my education has made me a little bit more cautious. So yeah, it definitely affected me.
Flowered Concrete: As a kid growing up did you enjoy reading literature at all?
Imani Jones: I always enjoyed my English lit classes. I enjoyed writing, I enjoyed reading. We did this poetry-out-loud kind of a thing at my school. We would recite poetry that was not ours, so yeah that definitely had an affect on me as well.
Flowered Concrete: Why do you think it’s important for there to be writing for black male masculinity especially from a woman’s gaze?
Imani Jones: I think that we are so inundated with this idea of the male being an alpha male and that its so natural for them to cheat and do this and that. And frankly, I think that’s bullshit. I think it takes female writers to unpack that and to pass the knowledge and experiences that they’ve had onto young generations so that we can start to deconstruct this idea that the male must provide and this toxic form of masculinity that I think is so present in a lot of my experiences and other women’s experiences. Just us being able to write about that will really help to kind of disperse that sense of toxic masculinity.
Flowered Concrete: How did you and Eniola meet? How did your connection or relationship with her lead to you contributing to her project?
Imani Jones: We met two years ago at a film institute through Nate Parker. It was a group of about 30 students and we met down in Texas and we spent a week there, writing, studying and understanding black art specifically. And Eniola was there and she was part of the filmmaking section and I was part of the directing section and we just kind of connected and vibed and we’ve been friends ever since.
Flowered Concrete: In the poem “Breath” you write, “There is a sad Sunday song that tells the tale of a weeping mother and her long lost son. We will never know such bitterness unless of course as we lay here we experience the last of us." Could you unpack that for a second? What were you trying to say there? I thought that was very insightful.
Imani Jones: I think for me I don’t know that I’ve experienced personally a lot of sadness or a lot of difficulty and love but I’ve witnessed a lot of it and so I think in any of the relationships that I’ve entered into I feel a sense of somberness about myself and I think that’s where the first line came from. That sense of a mother losing her son, there’s just this powerful and inexplicable sense of sadness and unknowing entering any type of knowing. For me it was one of the closest connections that I could make. It’s just a sense of purging and getting everything out and kind of going back later to try and unpack it.
Flowered Concrete: Where are you now with your art? Are you more so writing? Filming?
Imani Jones: I’m still writing. Whenever I feel like I need to purge, I’ll sit down and write, but I don’t necessarily force myself to churn out a book or number of poems. But I’m still writing. I’m still working on films. I’m currently still working with the Nate Parker Film Institute. So right now, we are exploring the topic of race relations centered around Virginia. So, we just filmed a documentary that focuses on Jamestown and Charlottesville. Still working with that and I’m still writing plays as well. And in a lot of my plays I try to incorporate some sense of poetry, some sense of music, because I feel like that is always important to the story and I think that that’s something that draws the audience in and so I’m just trying to incorporate a little bit of everything into what I’m doing.
Flowered Concrete: Are there any projects you have coming up that we the public should be aware of? Any past projects too? Books or visuals?
Imani Jones: Yeah. Nothing has been released. I’m finishing up a play now. But I’m still kind of in the preliminary stages with that. So yeah, things will be coming out soon. (Laughs)
Flowered Concrete: Imani, it was truly a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.
Imani Jones: Absolutely. Thank you.
Kevin Anglade is the founder and publisher of Flowered Concrete. Founded in 2012, he plans to bridge the gap between the African-American communities throughout the nation with hopes of reinvigorating a passion for literature.