Corey Ewing is an Indianapolis poet and aspiring comic writer who plays a big part in the local poetry and writing community. Ewing is the cohost of VOCAB, a monthly event at The White Rabbit Cabaret that allows local artists, especially focusing on the BIPOC and Queer community, to share their stories and voices through mostly poetry, writing, and music. Ewing has been involved in different Poetry Slam Teams, he was a former coach for Word As Bond Inc., and he is the cofounder of Sow4Real, an organization started as an anti-gentrification force in local food desert areas. In addition to his writing, catch him whipping up some cocktails at Gallery Pastry Bar and Bar One Fourteen. We sat down with Ewing to discuss the most pivotal reads that have made him a better person.
Things Fall Apart
I read this when I was in college in New York. It was really pivotal, because of the exposition it had into colonialism (in Africa) and how religion was used as a tool of insurrection. Capitalism was taking over, people were coming in and shooting and blowing everything up. A lot of it was infiltrating the religious aspect of the cultural norms that were there and deconstructing them. Getting people to turn against each other was a really big tool, and missionaries played a huge part in that. The culture of the area of Africa that it was based in was cool to me, because I had never thought about this stuff. It had a lot in it, and it’s also the title of a Roots album. The Roots always pick obscure books that they name their albums after. It’s wild, but it was a really good read. I’ve gone back to it a couple of times and it holds up well.
The Wheel of Time Series
It’s a whole fantasy series. When I started getting into those books I was struggling with really bad depression, and I didn’t have any form of escapism for it. I’d go to open mics and stuff like that, but it was every couple weeks so it was very infrequent. But this was a way for me to delve into something, and not focus on how bad things were at the time. It helped me crawl out of that. It’s a long series, the author didn’t even live to write the last book, so other people had to jump in. It’s a wild ride. It’s like Game of Thrones with way more magic, and way cooler. I really love the series. I think they’re adapting it into a TV show soon. There’s a lot of moving pieces, a lot of cogs in the wheel, and they just run with that idea. The main characters and the way they play their roles is so intricate and cool. It makes them all so individualistic.
I think Dr. Cornel West is one of the most brilliant minds when it comes to socioeconomic relations, especially ones affecting African-Americans in this country. I read that my freshman year. It was a required reading for one class, but I found a way to make it work for multiple classes. There was always something relevant in that material, especially at the time. My freshman year was during Obama’s first run for president. I was still in the military, so it was a very conflicted time. It was interesting to be a political science major, because at that time we were about to have our first black president and we were hopeful and so excited about everything, but also bouncing back with the reality of politics and learning all of that. So it was very sovereign for that. At that time I don’t think I ever really considered black academia in general.
I forget how old I was when I read this or even how I got the book, but it would be under the category of Afro-Futurism, which I didn’t know was a thing until recently. Shout out to Maurice Broaddus. It’s set on this distant planet, and a lot of it intertwines with Caribbean culture into a futuristic world. It’s a dystopia for sure. It follows the main character and her growing up, running away, and coming into her own person. I read it through the first time, and it stuck with me. It was probably the first book that dealt with Afro-Futurism that I ever read. It was really the first book that dealt with futurism, or any kind of dystopia, where we weren’t missing from it without explanation. Dystopia stuff is one of my favorite genres (next to zombies), but any time I consume any kind of medium from it, we’re just not there. There’s never an explanation why. It’s just a globally accepted thing that if you see something into the future, you just expect to not see any black people. Which is very frightening. Having the counterpart to that erasure in my hands and being able to read that story was really cool.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
AS TOLD TO ALEX HALEY
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, forever and always. I read it when I was much younger. I may have read that one in middle school. That one caught me. Primarily, it was the tale of his journey, growing up, going by Red, and then becoming Malcolm X, and showing that duality of people. How we can be capable of so much good and so much bad, but always contained in the same person. That really struck a chord with me. I didn’t grow up in the healthiest environment or anything, and a lot of people around me did a lot of crime and did a lot of bad things, but then they were also very good to me. That book not only brought it to the forefront for me, but helped me start processing that, accepting that, and giving people space to be people and learning to be more forgiving of things and situations. Without that book I probably wouldn’t have a grasp of that as well as I do. That book was really pivotal and also always relevant… unfortunately.
Up From Slavery
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
Coupled with The Souls Of Black Folk would be Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. He was a born slave, then came up from there. I couldn’t imagine what it took to be able to gain the level of intelligence alone. The access was not there, but he always found a way and was always so optimistic and hopeful of what the future could bring for black people in America. It talks about being a black man and being an American at the same time. It talks about having a form of intersectionality at the time, and I think it’s something that is still really relevant. Being black and coming to learn more about the culture, and what the culture was outside of an MTV video or something like that, and really getting down to what it all meant and the history of it all. That book did a number on me.
The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. DU BOIS
Booker T. Washington, who wrote Up From Slavery, was very much in the mindset that we must work with, we must make concessions, and that is the only way to move forward. W.E.B., the author of The Souls of Black Folk, was definitely a little more… well he was about that action. W.E.B. had a very different approach of how to navigate being black in America. It wasn’t aggressive. It didn’t feel like it was over the top or anything. It was just a great parallel to Booker T. Washington. It was really cool to read both in tandem, because there were two perspectives and two sides. They definitely kind of fit the Malcolm and Martin motif, but before them.
X-Men and everything related to it. If I even hear opening notes to the old theme song, or someone just says a character’s name in reference to anything I am zeroed in. I remember reading a lot of the comics when I was younger, and noticing the motif and how they dealt with things and I was like, “Huh, this seems really relatable.” I got older and thought, “Oh! Because this is really about civil rights.” It never shied away from that. They did one short run, nothing special about it, and it dealt with a reporter whose daughter befriended a young mutant. They tried to hide her and everything was going around with the civil rights movement. Mutants becoming known and that “fearful mom” response that was happening around it. It was really cool to see that perspective, not in relation to my own situation through that lens, but to see it applied with compassion and realism, I thought was really cool. I try to have the optimism today that we can reach everybody. Somebody, somewhere will be able to reach that one person. I really try to hold onto that. Even now I’m not the person to unfriend people. They don’t go to a magic island somewhere where they don’t actually exist in the world. They’re still out there. If I have the proximity to affect them in a way that holds them to be more open minded, and not have so much hate, then I think it’s important to keep those lines of communication open. It ain’t for everybody that’s for damn sure, but there are certain people where I think, “You’re not too far gone, we can reel you back in.” That run had a character that was based around that idea. Turn after turn they really did a great job of social commentary intertwined into the fantasy world, and I thought that was cool to see.
Black Nerd Problems
A website that I swear by with nerdy shit is Black Nerd Problems. They do a lot of commentary on stuff and I love the way that they write it, because they don’t shy away from their culture showing through in their writing. A lot of times people have to code switch, and seem more approachable to the mainstream, but they don’t give a fuck. The way they write is very conversational, so all the good clips of slang are intertwined into it. It makes it so refreshing to have that perspective in writing, and it doesn’t seem so academic and hoity-toity. All their fronts are down. I really love their style of writing and their voice, too. They don’t try to minimize any of their experiences, and it shines through. I can’t think of anything close to it. I really love that website, and they are hilarious too. It’s a great retreat, a lot of days.
The one that probably changed me the most, and without it I would never be involved with VOCAB or have traveled across the country doing poetry, was Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. It started off with Def Poetry Jam TV Show, that moved into a broadway theatre production, and from theatre production the book was made. I got to see it my senior year of high school. My speech teacher from North Central took me to see it and we got front row seats right in the center. I could see the spit flying out of their mouths when they performed. These were people that I saw on TV. First off, I didn’t know you could be cool and do poetry. I didn’t know you could make a living and do poetry. A lot of us that were the targeted demographic for Def Poetry Jam, it was really pivotal for us and got us into something that changed our lives, saved lives, got us to impact others’ lives, and it just had so many positive consequences. That tour was so cool. They had all my favorites there. All the voices there were really different. It was just the ebb and flow of it. It was an amazing show that was so well curated. All the voices in there got me into poetry more. I had been writing poetry, but it got me into forming poetry. I jumped on the speech team to do poetry after that, switched colleges just to do it, and it definitely set me on that track.
Honorable Mention: Maurice Broaddus
Maurice Broaddus is an Indianapolis author who writes fantasy and horror. He writes short stories, novels, and has a trilogy called The Knights of Breton Court. Visit his website here.