Meet the Author of Mustard Greens: Mikai Arion
1. So Mustard Greens is a cinematic short story. What exactly is a cinematic short story? What compelled you to write in that style?
A cinematic short story is a narrative that is told through writing and film, not just writing alone. Mustard Greens was my senior thesis to graduate from college this Spring 2020 to receive a BFA in Intermedia and a minor in Ecology. As an interdisciplinary artist, the merging of media is nothing new to me, but in this particular project I wanted to speak about how Black people move through space and time in context of environmental racism. I wanted the duality embedded in the cinematic book structure to give life to my narrative and this line of inquiry. I started reading W.E.B. Dubois’ 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk as his term “double consciousnesses” truly spoke to what my hypothesis on what Black movement in a society divided by the “color line” was. Dubois explains that Black people suffer from a splitting of the mind as we struggle to reconcile viewing ourselves through the eyes of a racist society versus our own true empathetic understandings of ourselves. This is why the cinematic book structure works for my story, it represents the internal struggle and movement (the transference from reading to watching) Black people deal with constantly due to environmental racism.
2. Many authors write from their personal experiences, challenges and triumphs. What part of Mustard Greens, if any, is uniquely your own story?
Yes, this is very true and this is present in my work as well. The dream sections in the book are unique to my life as I am a lucid dreamer and have been since childhood. All three of the dreams included in Mustard Greens are places I have been before. I have vivid and imaginative dreams and my family always encouraged me to write them down and analyze them. As I grew into my purpose as a writer and filmmaker, I noticed that dreams have a special quality about them when utilized in storytelling and so this has now become one of my trademarks. They allow me to dive in the subconscious of my characters instead of feeding my reader exactly what I want them to know about this character. The reader has the agency to come to their own conclusions based on what they see happening in said character’s mind. I believe including the dreams of characters allows them to be fully realized as real people. People in the real world are ambiguous, convoluted, and are not able to be explained or judged easily- just like the dreams they have. The major part of Mustard Greens that is uniquely mine, is that my great-grandparents owned a home in Oakland, California. As a child, my great-grandmother and I would go out into her garden and pick the mustard greens she grew in the backyard. I would then follow her into the kitchen and watch her prepare them for the entire family. Mustard Greens embodies family, comfort, and tenderness for me. It is a manifestation of all of the memories I have had with my Black family members, related to me by blood and/or through shared culture.
3. We all have our writing rituals that make us feel like we’re in our writing zone. What do you do/eat/listen to in order to get you into your writing zone?
1. Make a hot cup of chamomile and lavender tea and eat some delicious vegan meal.
2. I mediate before I start writing and sometimes during so I may connect to my ancestors who I believe grant me my creativity.
3. I write best when the world is asleep. Writing from 1am to 8am is my favorite. The world is silent and calm.
4. I listen to music. Music informs so much of my writing and I do consider myself a musician. In Chapter 2, I wrote the musical score and pulled many different songs out of my archive to share with my reader at the end of the book. It is imperative that I am able to allow my reader to connect with me directly and understand that when they hold a book, it was a journey and process to get to that point. I don’t want them to miss out on that experience.
4. There are many serious topics in Mustard Greens. What was your goal that the reader walk away with after reading Mustard Greens?
I wanted my reader to walk away thinking about freedom and what this means for Black people. I wanted there to be a theme about harvesting this freedom or at the very least, planting it. The last line about seeds, will mean different things for different readers. A white reader may think about the seeds of change or the seeds of karma. However, a Black reader may think about the seeds of retribution and justice ultimately leading to the seeds of freedom. When I read this work now, I view it as a poetic narrative. I intentionally wrote the book in a poetic code to represent what freedom feels like for me as a Black woman. It seems to be something that is ever-changing, evolving and just when I think I have a grasp on it, it slips through my fingers and morphs into something else. I often feel out of breath or as if I am floating in the air, ungrounded. This is where the theme of air and breath come through in the work and why they interject the story in such an overt way. I really want my readers to think about American society and that the way things are and have been going cannot continue. Every action has a reaction and every cause has an effect. How our society has and continues to treat Black people is not sustainable for the well -being of mankind and the tides must soon change.
5. Now, time for you to share some of your favorites. What book would you give to a person that would change their life? What author do you aspire to be like or admire their work?
To change your life: The Sacred Woman by Queen Afua or Man Heal Thyself by Queen Afua.
To feel: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
And the author who holds my heart: Beloved by Toni Morrison.
6. Any last words for readers who may not know you (yet)?
I want my work to present alternate realities of what the world could be. I like for my readers to walk away from my work thinking, asking, and coming to their own interpretations about what they just experienced. I want to have a dialogue with people who interact with my work and I hope for Black readers, my work brings you comfort, love, and to know that out of love I will forever fight, with, for, and beside you.
To get in contact with Mikai Arion or buy the book, Mustard Greens, visit her website at http://mikaiarion.com/shop