It’s a privilege to share the stage with Mitch Jackson, who is the kind of person who can walk into a room and put the shyest, most socially awkward person at ease. Probably by making one laugh. That’s mostly what I do when we are in the same place: laugh.
I’ve known Mitch for seven or so years, and in that time, I’ve learned that not only is Mitch kind to wallflowers, he is also an insightful, brilliant writer and prose stylist, as evidenced in his latest, The Residue Years, which blesses the reader with revelation after revelation as Mitch explores everything from the prison industrial complex to addiction and the drug trade to sex work to emotional intimacy as he tells the story of what it was like to come of age in Portland.
Finally, he is also brave. Every time we meet, he says something that I perhaps thought but was never forthright enough to say aloud. In the end, I’m proud to be in his literary cohort, to work with him in this endeavor to write us into the public’s imagination, and I’m looking forward to laughing my way through this conversation, and perhaps stumbling across a revelation or two.
Gilles Deleuze asserts our identity is defined by difference, that we are able to conceive of who we are only as difference from who and what we are not. A writer’s voice is a means of communicating that difference, of proclaiming to the world (or at least a reader) there is but one of us—and we have something to say in a way only we can say it.
For historically subjugated groups especially, of which Jesmyn and I belong, a literary voice is often DuBoisian, a way of expressing, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals.” A writer’s voice is also a response to cultural or political pressures, and can become a means of expressing their values as well as making visible elements of themselves that those in power try to erase or invalidate.
The talk will in part cover voice, which is to say our literary identity—how it evolved, how it reflects our personal and cultural experiences, our political ideals, and the place we call home.
—MITCHELL S. JACKSON