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The People Who Write Questionnaire: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Karma's Footsteps_peoplewhowrite

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Karma’s Footsteps (photo credit: TSE 2014)

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?

What is the greatest story ever told?
The African proverb “until the lions have their own storytellers, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” is something I live by. It is encoded in my DNA. The greatest story ever told is the lions’ story when told by the lions.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Ohh, I can’t give a real answer to this. I have not read enough to say. I would need to be fluent in every language to think I had a clue. But Janie Crawford and Jesse B. Semple spring to mind. Janie amazes me more every time I read Their Eyes Were Watching God. She is courageous and sensual and she lives from her heart. I first encountered Semple when I was about 16 and I still love his voice. His wisdom. His humor. You know who else? Indigo from Ntozake Shange’s Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo. Indigo is so magical and folk. She is a real child of the earth and the old ways. A healer. She is a great reminder that folk(s) is magical.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Ntozake Shange! James Baldwin! Impossible to choose between them. Not that I would utter a word in either of their presence.

What is your favorite word right now?
Gravitas. It sounds like what it means and it’s rhythmic.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Quixotic. I have to look it up every time I see it.

How many words have you written today?
I wrote five pages in my journal. I don’t know how many words that is though. I never count words unless it is for a bio.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Anytime the writing works I’m beyond thrilled. I must say that my experience writing a novella while I was a student at Mills College in Oakland was pretty damn amazing though. The work just flowed there. I had a ritual: I’d go to the library, put on headphones and write. I’d listen to the same musicians every time. The characters just spoke. No prodding or struggle. I’d always leave with something solid.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
I absolutely love writing. All of it: the pen in my hand, the paper, the way time stops. I like squinting at what is on the page and reading it aloud and scribbling things out and adding other things in. I even like letting the work breathe and going back to it. When I type it up, that means I am making it official. Working with editors (friends are unofficial editors at times) is the thing that leaves me frustrated, sweating, wringing my hands and wondering what the hell I was thinking when I decided to answer the call to write. Once that process is over though, I am always glad I was open to it.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The surprises. There are so many. And I feel clearer after I write. Or more confused but at least I’m clear that I’m confused.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
I know so many writers that no stereotype fits. I will say that I think all writers either are or were outcasts at some point. Even if that feeling was only in our heads, somehow we have felt like outcasts and that led us to the page. We could create new worlds or grapple with the one we were in through words.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I operate as a poet, even though I write fiction and non-fiction, I approach things with a poet’s sensibility. The biggest misconception about poetry is that it is NOT for the people. That it has to be hard to understand. There have been occasions where I’ve read my work and people say that it was the first time they could understand poetry. That is the biggest gift anyone could hand me.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I like to curse. I have a really loud laugh. I dig fashion — not trends but style, aesthetics, well-made clothes, textiles, and color.

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s first book of poetry Karma’s Footsteps was published in 2011 (flipped eye publishing). She is the poetry editor of the literary magazine African Voices. Her work and creative life are the subject of the short film I Leave My Colors Everywhere. Tallie has read her work and lectured at universities and colleges across the United States. She is widely published in anthologies and journals including North American Review, WSQ, Specter Magazine, Mosaic, Bomb, Crab Orchard Review, Oya N’ Soro, Drumvoices Revue, Role Call, and Revenge and Forgiveness. Tallie earned an MFA from Mills College in 2002 and has taught at Medgar Evers College and York College in New York City. She is one half of the recording duo The Quiet Onez. Her cinepoems, herbal workshops and performaces can be seen at


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