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autumn/winter 2016

"No matter what I’m doing, I’m working on my stories somewhere in my head."

Rion Amilcar Scott:

An Interview

Originally published Nov. 4, 2016

Rion Amilcar Scott is a writer from Silver Spring, MD. His debut collection of short stories, Insurrections, was published in August 2016 and is set in Cross River, MD--a fictional town that acts as the backdrop for his narratives about African American life. Rion holds a MFA from George Mason University and an undergraduate degree in English from Howard University. He teaches English at Bowie State University in Bowie, MD. 

Rion spoke with us about Insurrections, crafting his characters, and his family's influence on his writing,

At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to pursue a career as a writer?
When I discovered poetry as a pre-teen I was pretty much in love. There was nothing else after that. 


Tell us about your creative process. Any interesting rituals?
I’m constantly daydreaming about my stories and whatever is going on with my imaginary friends. No matter what I’m doing, I’m working on my stories somewhere in my head. 


Your debut collection of short stories, Insurrections, was published in August 2016. What do you hope readers will grasp with this collection?
Readers always show me new things about my book that I never noticed. I hope readers see different perspectives on blackness or, ways of doing blackness. I hope readers interrogate what constitutes masculinity. Most importantly, I hope readers have fun with my book. 


Cross River, MD is the fictional town you created for Insurrections. It is known as the home of  America’s only successful slave revolt. Why was that characteristic important in the literary construction of this town?

I wanted to have a location to call my own, the same way Sherwood Anderson had his Winesburg, Ohio. So many of my stories are “what ifs.” What if that birthday party I threw for my son went horribly? What if that mistaken identity encounter turned into a disaster? Adding a successful slave revolt in the background of my work adds a giant “what if” to play with over my entire project. 

Also, as a young man studying history I always dreamt and wondered what things would have been like had John Brown, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, etc, been successful. 


Given the history of Cross River and how the town is utilized as the setting of present-day events in Insurrections, how important is its history in framing the present and future lives of its residents/characters?

So much of the way we do things, both on a micro and a macro level, is defined by decisions made hundreds of years before we were born. I teach at an HBCU founded 151 years ago to educate freed slaves. The daily mission I was given when hired is an extension of the mission of the people who founded the school. History is always with me. I love examining that in the Cross River saga.

How do you navigate a character’s voice or personal story without imposing too much of your own?

Sometimes my own story is a starting point, but I’m boring so if a story is going to be interesting in any way at all, the character at some point must detach him or herself from me and live on their own terms and have their own concerns. So I focus on what a character wants and needs, which is often distinct from my wants and needs. 

Talk a little about how your personal family life informs your work. 

I write a lot of father and son stories, I have to attribute that in some way to my own father, even if I haven’t and won’t interrogate that fully. Having a son of my own adds another layer to working with the tension that is naturally there between parents and children. Having a son—a strong-willed kid who acts largely in the same frustrating way I did as a child—gives me a lot more compassion for my parents and the decisions they made in raising my brothers and me. The stories I wrote after my son was born are different than the ones I wrote before he was born and I think that has something to do with this new understanding. 

Your parents are from Trinidad. The short story “Three Insurrections” explores your Trinidadian heritage. Do you think you’ll ever dedicate a collection solely to Trinidad? 

Anything is possible, but probably not. I’m deeply in love with Cross River and want to explore that until the wheels fall off. 

What is your opinion of the current creative writing landscape?  

I’m excited by the work my peers are doing. Reading some of the things they are writing keeps me vital. There is an overwhelming amount of work out there from literary magazines to books, but when I read something excellent as I frequently do I get that Kendrick Lamar, “Control” spirit in me and I’m like, “I got love for y’all, but I’m trying to murder y’all…” 

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think the teaching of creative writing is creating a sameness in literature because there are so many people doing so many different things. As long as I keep encountering peers like Randa Jarrar, Lincoln Michel, Donald Quist, Amber Sparks—to name a few who have written recent books that have motivated me—then I’m a happy dude. 


Rion Amilcar Scott, what affirms you? 

My son. There is no cool in him or pretending in him. He loves me just because I’m there. It won’t always be like that, I know. But I have to remember to cherish that while it lasts. 

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