Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Keith Barbee

April 22, 2009 Print version       Other articles by this author

Our Brave Soul artist feature for April 2009 is an author, journalist, poet, and all around renaissance man who currently resides in our very own Washington, DC area. KEITH BARBEE, born in Ripley, Tenn, is the NEW VOICE OF LITERATURE. He is truly a product of 'the village.' Having been raised primarily by his maternal grandparents, he also was influenced by his mother and a myriad of aunts, cousins, and other grandparents. His Papa Smurf is how he would address his grandfather. A grandfather who introduced him to the written word and storytelling early on. Barbee writes in 'layman's terms' which suggests that his storytelling ability is void of bourgeoisie, fluff, and filler. He and his writing are the real deal. He narrates the lives of everyman. His work has appeared in The Meter, Grooveline, and The Tennessee Tribune newspapers. He has also written for Venus, GBF, and Xclusive magazines. He serves as Editor-At-Large for the latter. He has also pegged articles for and the digital companion to Xclusive, His work personifies what it means to be a Brave Soul and to transform your ideas & dreams into reality and therefore, we are honored to present to the BSC readers/supporters, Mr. Keith Barbee. Enjoy...

I am a huge advocate of taking some you time. It has to happen. You have to sit and meditate. You have to take a moment to just breathe. These things are essential."

How & when did you first get into writing? Has writing always been your artistic 'weapon' of choice or do you have other artistic interests and talents?

I honestly feel like I descended the womb writing. It really is a gift that I've been given and I am immensely thankful for it. I can remember teachers letting my parents know early on that I had great penmanship especially for a boy. I began writing songs and plays for my church youth groups at a very early age. However, it was in college that I first began to see how effective I was at the written word when I was Arts & Entertainment Editor of our student newspaper, The Meter at Tennessee State University.
Writing is the talent that I utilize the most but I played trumpet in school and I also sang and danced a lot. I love the arts so I was always involved in school plays and talent shows. Writing, however, is special to me.

Many readers don't really understand what the publishing process consists of. Specifically, can you speak a bit about what your experience has been like in terms of getting your work published? Additionally, in your opinion what are some of the pros and cons of being self published?

I remember when my friend George first mentioned that we should publish. We had just gotten back from a trip to Atlanta and had met all these fascinating people who had these great life stories so we decided to tell those in what became The Hot Life. I did a lot of internet searching and trying to make sense of it all. I was trying to go both routes (self-publishing and traditional publishing house) at the same time. Naivete. I would encourage anyone who wanted to do anything to first research the field. You can never know too much about something you want to be involved with.
Self-publishing and having a deal with a major publisher like Simon & Schuster are very different beasts. I don't really have a problem with self-publishing which is what I have done with my projects because I believe you should invest in yourself and your talents which essentially is what you do when you decide to self-publish. Make sure that you align yourself with a company that suites you. Xlibris and iUniverse are two that come to mind.
We all would like Doubleday or Penguin Putnam to give us a six figure advance to write but that doesn't easily happen for most of us. So until the majors come knocking, you get your own dreams out. Specifically, with self-publishing, you become agent, publicist, and marketing guru. There is no 'company' really to make sure that people know you have a product available. It really is left up to you to get your books in stores, set up book signings, get on TV or radio. Having great connections does not hurt! With self-publlishing, you pay to be printed. With a major publishing company, you are given an advance. That money has to be made back from sell of the product (much like the music industry) or you can possibly end up owing the publishing company.

How does the way you identify yourself with regard to your sexuality inform, influence or affect your work as a writer/author?

Everything about who I am, including sexuality, influences my work as it should. As example, I love chocolate so there may very well be a character in one of my books who likes chocolate. I commonly use the quirky things about myself in my books. However, these characters are not me and all their actions and decisions are not based on my life. That's why they call it fiction.

How does your new novel, "Apt 202" set itself apart from your past work such as your book of poetry, "Exposed"? What was the inspiration behind the title and the concept of the book and it's story?

Exposed and The Hot Life are both poetry books. APT 202 is my foray into novel writing. The process was very different for me in that I rarely edit poems. I feel that they are complete thoughts and really shouldn't be tampered with too much. However, novels need to be read numerous times and edited by everyone you trust. There is so much at stake with novel writing. You have to be true to the essence of the characters- what they say, what they think, how they dress, how they change and grow. It's really hard work but it's work that I love.
I'm going to keep the reasoning behind the title a mystery for now. That's the type of trivia you may see on Jeopardy one day.
There really wasn't a concept; it was more of a challenge. I had a chance meeting with author Nikki Turner who is known for street-literature (street lit). I wrote a page or two and submitted it to her publicist. She liked it and wanted to see the full manuscript. Well, there wasn't one so I took two days off from work and those two days culminated in APT 202. Essentially the novel is about choices and consequences.

How has life in the DC metropolitan area influenced your work, particularly with regard to your most recent novel, "Apt 202"?

DC is such a great place to live and learn. The District can actually be considered a character in APT 202 as it is the setting but also because the places and people in this book are true to the people and places in this great city. My characters really do show the city for what it is to them. Staples like Ben's Chili Bowl and the historic community of Anacostia are mentioned as well as other places and the nuances of the city are accounted for.

What impact have social issues & politics had on the way you approach your work as an artist?

When I am in critique mode, I typically shy from social and political issues because I'm known as 'The Entertainment Guy' and that's what I do well. However, I am free in my novel writing to address issues that are important. I have also written a few pieces like the Katrina piece for I try to stay relevant and speak on topics that I am versed on. That's the important piece to me. I have to know what I am talking about before I engage in putting my thoughts on an issue out to the public. As a journalist, you have responsibility and I take that seriously. I even addressed journalistic integrity in the Katrina piece.

How has the issue of HIV/AIDS affected your life in general, and specifically what impact if any has it had on your work as an artist/writer?

Interestingly, I remember being in college and only knowing one person who was infected. When I say know, I say that to mean that I was told by the person. Of course, we all know people who are who may not know themselves or may not be forthcoming with that part of them. I now know, for certain, more than a dozen personal friends who live with the virus. I did not deal with HIV/ AIDS specifically in this novel but I have wrtitten a myriad of poems and short stories on the issue. A great piece of mine to check for would be "A Letter to Kevin" from my first book, The Hot Life.

Self esteem, mental and emotional wellness, are all topics and issues that we're examining this month on the Brave Soul Collective website. How important do you feel these things have been to the development and cultivation of your artistry?

You must take care of your mental and emotional man in much the same way you do your physical man. This is lost on African Americans often though. We have always gone above and beyond to just have a little bit of happiness. So often, mothers neglect themselves for their families as do fathers in our community. I am a huge advocate of taking some you time. It has to happen. You have to sit and meditate. You have to take a moment to just breathe. These things are essential.
In APT 202, one of the characters, Fay, is overweight so I address self-esteem as it relates to weight in the book. It's done in a very real but almost subliminal way. It is paramount that self-esteem issues are addressed and dealt with. I cover it often in my work.

As it pertains to literature what are some of your favorite works and why?

I am a huge Gloria Naylor fan. She of The Women of Brewster Place fame. However, her other works are just as profound. She uses a little known writing genre called stream of consciousness that I love.
Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife is my absolute favorite book though. So much so that I purchased it for several of my friends as gifts. It ultimately shows you that you never really know anyone. I love the book- still! Sister Souljah is also a favorite. The Coldest Winter Ever and her latest, Midnight are phenomenal literary pieces. Midnight is such a great book in that Souljah gives us (African American men) this young character as example to how we should treat women, culture, and religion. I have never come across a character as disciplined and cemented in tradition as this young man. Souljah gave us this guy out of love for us and I get that. She is saying that we have to do better; be better. Inspiring!

Does pop culture, arts, music and entertainment shape or influence the subject matter of any of your writings or poetry? If so, in what way?

Wow! As an entertainment critic, my work is greatly nuanced by popular culture. The chapter titles in the book are actually songs. My writing is connected to art and culture in a very real way. Music is a huge part of my personal life and it shows up in my writing. I would dare say that my writing and pop culture have a symbiotic relationship.

If you had to pick 5 words that speak to the spirit of who you are as a person what would they be and why? Please explain.

1.) Gentleman- I'm a southern guy so I still say 'yes ma'am,' 'thank you,' 'no sir' and address my elders and women with respect. It's apart of my life fabric.

2.) Creative- Whether with words, clothes, or money. I know how to get it done- effectively and in a fly way.

3.) Writer- The essence of who I am and who I want to be remembered as is a great man of words.

4.) Dependable- That's a superlative that was given to me in my high school year book. I wanted to be Best Dressed but over time I have come to appreciate this sentiment. It's a very good character trait to possess.

5.) Loner- I probably go overboard with this one. I was an only child for a long time. Being alone forced me to get creative. I thank my grandmother for not allowing me to always go out and play with other kids. My writing ability was nurtured in my grandparent's home because I had nothing to do but entertain myself. I still do!

For more on Keith Barbee, visit him on his official website, Keith Barbee Online & Apt 202
and additionally you can visit him on myspace by clicking here:
Keith Barbee on Myspace.
You can also catch him on facebook by clicking here: Keith on facebook