Interview: Nastashia Minto

Editor Katie Collins Guinn, Interview, May 10th, 2019

"the magic happens everywhere"

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Naked: The Rhythm and Groove of it. The Depth and Length to it. is a collection of poetry and prose by Nastashia Minto. I stayed up until 3am the night I got my hands on this book, carefully absorbing every line. I have since read it countless more times, with certain pages being consumed like an addiction I can’t shake. There are books we discover that are filled with pieces that make us breathe in deep, take our eyes to the sky for a moment to soak in the line just read. Pieces that make us weep and feel like we’re making love to the words on the page as we obsessively underline sentence after sentence and can’t stop reading said book – Naked has done this to me.

Naked book cover (Eldredge books)

This book is like a coming out to oneself story told through pieces that superbly stand alone. Nastashia talks about being a queer African American woman rising into her power and strength, recognizing her own beauty and love for herself. Growing up in the Bible Belt, she takes us into her journey of being raised by her gracious grandmother (and grandfather) and her struggles with discovering parts of herself that she had repressed alongside parts that were never known until recently. It’s about experiencing the depth of racism in this country that hasn’t dissipated through the generations; the fear that accompanies that, as well as the realization that she isn’t lesser than anyone. So many of the poems are love letters to herself, to women and people of color, and a fuck you to anyone who even tries to question that, albeit also in a loving way. This kind of writing has the power that makes me want to walk next to her wherever she’s heading and just hope that even the tiniest bits of shine she embodies will seep out and into me. She has the skill to write her power into a form before the reader. This is the kind of writing we need right now.

 

Nastashia holds an associate’s degree in occupational therapy and a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

We are  delighted she agreed to talk with us about her debut publication.

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At your book launch in February, you opened by singing your poem, ‘Grandma’s Hands’. It was an intimate and gorgeous opening I haven’t experienced before at a reading. What made you decide to sing?

The beginning was Bill Withers’ song “Grandma’s Hands”, a dedication to his grandmother. That’s how this piece came about. I was listening to that song on repeat.

Nastashia’s Grandmother

My grandma always sang in church or around the house on Sundays, so singing this song to start off just reminded me of being with my grandma. It felt like she was standing and singing with me. I knew that every time I performed this piece I would sing that song because it reminds me of the strength and love my grandma carried.

 

Oh, I see. How magical. That poem is one of my favorites and I’ve read it over and over. Do you see your grandma’s hands in your own hands? What other parts of her do you see in yourself?

It is one of my favorites as well. When I first wrote it I cried for a while. Even as I performed on the night I launched my book I felt tears swelling in my eyes. I feel like I got my grandma’s eyes, and lips and I got some “big ole hips and a butt” like her too. I think that just runs in the family.


Again, the night of your book launch at Another Read Through the seats were filled; there were people standing, scrunched in corners and pouring out from the room on to the stairs. You have become a local celebrity! What has this experience been like for you?

Haha. I still feel the same. Maybe because my financial situation is still the same. However, I do think it’s cool to have people interested in my work and my voice.

 

Even when you aren’t technically singing, those of us who have witnessed you reading your work in person know how it flows like a song with your voice carrying the words strong throughout the room. Does your best work flow out immediately, how you desire it to be, or do you rework, edit, and arrange these pieces painstakingly?

For me I think my best work flows immediately. When it comes I allow it to flow freely. It’s really hard for me to sit down and make myself write when I’m not “feeling” it because I don’t feel like I produce really good work otherwise. But that could also be my lack of discipline. I am not great with technical stuff when it comes to writing, so editing, grammar, punctuation, all that great stuff – I’m not good with that at all. I’m extremely thankful for editors.

 

You were born and raised in South Georgia and moved to Portland a little over a year ago. What brought you to Portland?

Yes, I was born in a little town called “Boston”. I really had no intentions on moving to Portland. I didn’t know anything or anyone. I originally wanted to move to either Colorado or California. I Applied to jobs all over the mid-west and west coast. The job I have now called me back, but I didn’t answer. I said to myself “this is a spam call.” They didn’t leave a voicemail either. So, then they called back and the next time they left a detailed message. I didn’t reply at first because I didn’t know anything about Portland and I wanted to go somewhere that was a little more diverse than where I came from. They were persistent. Now, looking back, I’m glad they were. I didn’t have any money or a place to live when I came here and they helped me with both.

 

What a great story. That’s incredible for an employer to do. You’re an Occupational Therapy Assistant, which is a specialized kind of healing. What brought you to this profession? Do you see yourself doing this long term?

I got into this field because I wanted to know what would be the closest thing that I could do to help people be as functional as possible while still using my creativity and encouragement. For the longest time I was angry that there was nothing else we could have done to save my grandmother. She was our rock and foundation. The doctors told us that she needed occupational and physical therapy, but she couldn’t afford it on Medicaid.  When I lost her, I felt like I lost a big part of myself. It has taken me a long time to regain that strength and I still have days that I just think about her and cry.

I think this job is just for right now to get me to where I’m going, but maybe not for the long term.

 

What a heavy layer to add onto the grief of losing such an important loved one. And also such a beautiful way for you to transform that into the work you do.

What is your impression of us Portlanders so far? Do you think you’ll stay? What are some similarities/differences you’ve noticed between the two climates?

 Sometimes Portland is scarier than the south as far as the racism, sexism, homophobia, all those things because people seem to be very passive or passive-aggressive here. In the south, I know when someone “doesn’t like me” or “I’m in the wrong neighborhood” because they either flat out say it or you can feel it. Here in Portland, I feel like I get a lot of mixed messages.

I do like that I’ve been welcomed in the writing community. That has been a big plus and a big part of why I’m still here.

I don’t know how long I will stay here. Maybe until my heart tells me it’s time to go, that’s usually what happens.

The climates are sooooo different. Georgia is warm, hot, hotter, and humid. I have never seen this many rainy days in my entire life. I have never been without the sun this long either, but I do have to say the tropical weather is nice in the summer time.

 

You talk about being born addicted to crack/cocaine. This is something many humans in America share with you, being born addicted to drugs. Do you feel like you’ve had to work harder than others to find your strengths, or did this make you more reflective growing up? Or both? How does this fact resonate with you now? When did you learn this is part of your story?

When I was growing up I felt like it was harder to find strength. Everything around me just seemed hard. Everyone I knew was “struggling” that’s all I knew. That is why I turned to the church so hard; because I wanted something different, something more. I knew I didn’t want to be like my mom, although people would tell me I was just like her.

Once I turned 22 I was more reflective. Maybe because I majored in psychology. I’m not sure what clicked in me, but I had this deep love and hurt for my mother. I felt like I understood that drugs and alcohol are really a disease and a strong addiction. Before this, I was always mad with her. Upset that she couldn’t just “kick it” or wishing she had been more present.

I didn’t learn about this part of my life until April 2017. My mother wrote me a short letter about her life and things she had been through. But she wrote this part about me that said:

“I didn’t know I was pregnant with you cause I was smoking so much til I wasn’t showing. But when I found out that I was pregnant I was trying to smoke so much dope to try and miscarry, not that I didn’t want you. I was just scared that you might be born messed up from the crack intake. You was a stubborn lil girl. You insisted on living and hung on in there. You was born a premature 5lb 13oz. There was nothing else wrong with you except that you were born to the addition of crack…

…I’m so sorry. I wasn’t a very good mother to you all like I should have been”

Once she told me that, I felt like everything else in my life started to make sense. She would tell me she was proud of me for working with children and adults with disabilities because that could have been me. Drugs have never been appealing to me. I do wonder if it affected the chemicals in my brains. I know it does take me a little longer to comprehend stuff, but I’ve always had to work harder in school.

Now I am more reflective than I have ever been in my life. I listen fast and respond slow. Understanding that sometimes it’s not what was said, but the things that were left unsaid that matters the most.

 

You mentioned turning to the church then. What is your relationship with it now?

I don’t have a relationship with the church. I feel like God is not in a box and cannot be defined by a book.

 

There are a few highly erotic poems. Has it been empowering releasing these into the world?

I absolutely love talking about erotica and anatomy in general. I think because I’ve suppressed it for so long and I was a highly devoted Christian, so that was against everything I believed in. I never thought I would have it in a book out in the world, but now that I have it in a book it does feel very empowering.

 

What has the reaction been from your family?

So far only a few people have read it in my family and they like it. I’ve only had one person so far ask me about the sexual assault. Other than that, no one has said anything or asked any questions.

 

Are there spaces or processes that bring forth inspiration for you? Some people go for walks, others say the magic happens in the shower. How do you record ideas when they come?

Haha. I seriously think the magic happens everywhere. I could be in the middle of a conversation and the person said a word or phrase that triggered a thought process in my brain. Most times when that happens I’m just like “hold on, let me write this thought down real quick.” Nature and being by water are the two things that brings me closest to peace and which also inspire some good stuff in me.

If I can I write it down on paper, or I usually just put it in my notes on my phone. I currently have two hundred and thirty-six notes in my phone.

 

Hello teasers!
Who are your favorite writers?

Well of course I’m inspired by Maya Angelou. I’m pretty sure she was like my auntie in our past lives. Nikki Giovanni, Mary Oliver, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Les Brown, Lisa Nichols, Paulo Coelho, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Teju Cole, Jasmyn Ward, Jessica Wadleigh, Lidia Yuknavitch, Reema Zaman, Jenny Forrester, Rene Denfeld, and Tammy Lynne Stoner.

There are so many great writers who inspire me and so many great writers that I have met since I’ve been here in Portland it would take up the rest of the interview just with their names.

 

Who are your favorite artists, musicians?

I love oldies. Smooth type music. I’m pretty sure I’m like 200,028 years old in real life, haha. I like Boyz II Men, Tupac, Daniel Caesar, Yebba (Abby Smith), J. Cole, Jidenna, Janelle Monae, Jill Scott, Leela James, Jazmine Sullivan, Tank and the Bangas, Lala Hathaway, Tracy Chapman, Kirk Whalum, Jhene Aiko, H.E.R, Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Major, Alex Isley, Labrinth, Yuna, Willow Smith, Andra Day, King Teedra Moses, Anthony Hamilton, Timothy Bloom, V. Bozman, Erykah Badu, Emily King, Aloe Blacc, Sabrina Claudio, Sdy, Kiana Lede, Jessie J, Alabama shakes, SZA, Sinead Harnett, Alina Baraz, and Masego

When I’m feeling like I need some “hood or trap” music I listen to Kevin Gates, Future, Plies, Migos, Cardi B, O.T Genasis, or 2 Chainz.

Painters: Katie Guinn, Jillian Williams, Flora Medawar.

 

Ummmm, I’m totally blushing right now.
What is your star sign?

My star sign is Cancer.

Sun in Cancer
Moon in Libra
Rising in Capricorn

 

Were you sharing any of your work at home before you came here? What’s the writing culture like there?

No, I only wrote in my journals. I may have shared a piece here and there with some friends or my ex-partner, but never on stage or how I’m doing now. I never thought I would write a collection of poetry.

I’m not sure [what the writing culture is there]. I wasn’t invested in the writing while I was there so I didn’t seek it out. I don’t even know if they have a writing culture; maybe a few towns over, but not the small town I’m from. I feel like Portland is very special in that way because they do have such a larger writing community.

 

The title of your book is ‘Naked’. Can you tell us a little more about what this signifies for you?

I love being naked! I believe there is such a freedom that comes with nakedness and I feel like I’ve been chasing that freedom for so long, not realizing that all I wanted to be was me. Open, honest, the freedom to express myself, to live true to who I am, to not be afraid, to take the expectations off of people, to love radically and deeply, to listen to myself, and not be afraid to follow my intuition. Naked to me equals freedom and self-love.

 

There were a few pieces in the book where I was like, “Oh! I know what she’s talking about!” and “That has been my experience also.” Then I thought more about that, and realized it’s not about me.

Since forever, white people have done this and it has the potential of taking away the value of people of colors’ unique experiences. What is your reaction when white people say that pieces or lines you’ve written resonates with them? There are parts that aren’t race specific, but as an African American woman, do you feel like you want to be seen and heard and for white people to stop trying to ‘relate’ to you?

Nastashia Minto

When we are all stripped of our skin and it’s just muscles and bones we all bleed red and most of us have 206 bones in our body, plus or minus some. If there are some things white people can relate to in my pieces, I am okay with that. There are pieces like “Grandma’s hands”, “A hero with many names”, “Evolution to peace”, “Mother May I”, and “Triggers”. It’s pieces like those that people may have had similar experiences, or even worse. I will never dismiss someone else’s experiences because of the color of their skin. To me that seems foolish and continues the cycle of self-hate just in another group of people. I feel like we need to work more on changing the frame instead of continuously throwing paint on an old one.

Yes, it may be harder for me because I still have to deal with a deeper level of hate solely based off my skin color, but personally, I want to spread love and understanding. I know that doesn’t come with everyone or from everywhere. The only time when I’m not okay with people saying they can “relate” is when it takes away from the person of color’s experience and puts it back on them to make our experience feel less validated.

 

Anything else you want us to know?

We as a people need to listen carefully, and respond slowly. We are so consumed with everything else that we just forget or don’t know how to be present. We are lacking in basic human needs of connection, communication, and understanding. We all want to be seen, but not too many wants to take the time to stop, pay attention and listen. Here is a piece out of my new collection that I think fits with what I’m trying to say:

          “Listen to me.

          She said you only hear the parts you want to hear. She was right — and I reassured her that what she said was in fact true.

          Why?

          Because it’s easy for us to make other people feel crazy when we don’t have the maturity to reflect. Instead most would deflect and defend their post.

          In fact, most of us would retract from the conversation. Leaving unspoken truths for later dates to become arguments and unwanted debates.

          I like when people say what they need to say to me. So there is no time for my brain to fill in the spaces I see in their statements.

          Let’s face it. A lot of the ways I’ve been communicating are learnt behaviors because that’s how I knew how survive.

          But she reminded me that I’m thriving.

          That it’s okay to allow my brain to switch roles, get out of survival mode but keep the tools.

          She praised me for my ability to slowly think and reflect because I could have became defensive and upset all because I wasn’t listening.

          We all say we want to grow, but lack the maturity to let go of who we use to be — to be watered and nourished into who we are becoming.

          But — I’m listening”.

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You can purchase Naked here

 

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Katie Collins Guinn

Katie Collins-Guinn is an artist, mother of blood and non-blood daughters, designer and writer, wifey, flower gardener, 4th generation North Portlander and lover of the beautiful.

She’s part of the corporeal writing family, which has brought about work that’s been hiding in her lungs, liver and heart for years.

Her adult coloring book The Stoner Babes was recently published with Microcosm Publishing. She’s spent time as a contributing freelance writer for the Portland Mercury and has been published in Entropy, Nailed Magazine and The Manifest-station.

She cares for 19 roses and counting.