Award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson joins the show to discuss his new book Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion. He explains why he wanted to write about the intersection of basketball and fashion in this hybrid of lookbook and cultural commentary. We also get into basketball’s best and worst dressed, what winning the Pulitzer has meant to Mitchell and why he never reads for pleasure.
The Stacks Book Club selection for November is Severance by Ling Ma. We will discuss the book on November 29th with Mitchell S. Jackson.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we are joined by Pulitzer Prize winner Mitchell S. Jackson. Mitchell is here to discuss his latest book. It’s called Fly and it’s the big book of basketball fashion. Fly is not only a quality lookbook packed with fantastic photos of your favorite NBA players. It also includes essays of incisive cultural commentary. It’s the study of the intersection between high fashion and basketball and it dates all the way back to the pre Civil Rights Era. It’s giving you suits and skinny ties all the way through to the current era of nerd chic and athleisure. Mitchell previously authored the memoir Survival Math and the novel The residue years. In addition to naming basketball’s Best and Worst Dressed athletes. We also talked today about reading for pleasure and what winning the Pulitzer Prize has meant to Mitchell both personally and professionally. Our November book club selection is the novel Severance by Ling Ma, which we will discuss on Wednesday, November 29. When Mitchell Jackson returned to the stacks. Quick reminder, everything we talked about each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. Also, we have less than 200 reviews on Apple podcasts before we hit 2000. So that is my goal for the end of the year. Please head to Apple podcasts and leave a rating and a review for the show. All right now it is time for my conversation with Mitchell S. Jackson.
All right, everybody. I am so excited. I have someone that I have been sort of following on the internet for a long time on the show, but never actually had on the show. It seems crazy. But I’m thrilled to welcome author, Pulitzer Prize winner, Michel S. Jackson. Mitchell, welcome to The Stacks.
Mitchell S. Jackson 2:40
Yay. Thank you for having me.
Traci Thomas 2:42
I’m so excited. Your new book is called Fly. It’s the big book of basketball fashion, which we’re going to talk about. But before we get into that, can you just sort of tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mitchell S. Jackson 2:53
Well, I’m from Portland, Oregon, and I’m I’m very pro Portland. I mean, I have a tattoo of a rose on me. It says Portland on it. I take a lot of pride in being from not even from the northwest just from Portland, Oregon. I went to NYU for graduate school and creative writing. And so I ended up moving to New York in 2002 and stayed there almost 20 years. In the meanwhile, I started teaching, taught at NYU for a long time and then moved to Chicago, where I thought I was going to stay for a little while and didn’t only stay for a year. And now I’m at ASU teaching. I mean, most people if you go back to my first novel, it’s autobiographical. Know that my mother struggled with addiction and then I went to prison feels so far away now that it’s it’s like a part of my bio that I’m like, is that someone else’s bio, or is it mine? But but but it’s there? Yeah. So I have a couple of books.
Traci Thomas 3:52
Yeah, you do. And you have a Pulitzer for an article you wrote? Yes, we’re gonna get I have Pulitzer related questions. Don’t worry. So you’re in Arizona now?
Mitchell S. Jackson 4:02
Traci Thomas 4:03
You know, I went to NYU for undergrad so we were probably there at the same time.
Mitchell S. Jackson 4:06
I didn’t know that. No, I didn’t. What did you study?
Traci Thomas 4:09
Yeah, I was a theater major.
Mitchell S. Jackson 4:11
You were at Tisch, yeah. My office is right across from Tisch. 726. Broadway. Yep.
Traci Thomas 4:16
Okay, we were 721. Love it there. That’s so like, I always think it’s I found so many people and doing the show who are NYU adjacent, who were there at the same time as me and it’s just such a crazy thing to know that we were like all within a few blocks of each other. Yeah. And you know that it took years and years for our pads to cross. Right. Right. Small world. Okay, let’s talk about basketball fashion. First, let’s talk about basketball. Are you a Trailblazers fan?
Mitchell S. Jackson 4:46
I am. The degree to which my Trailblazers fan, it varies. You know when I was there, we had Clyde Drexler, and we had Terry Porter. And so those are a great teams and and I had never left Portland so I was a diehard Blazer fan because that’s what you are when you’re in Portland. When I moved away I started to like players more than I liked the team.
Traci Thomas 5:13
I hate this. I hate the player fandom. It’s my it’s a huge pet peeve for me.
Mitchell S. Jackson 5:19
Well, what I think it’s really comes out of the way the league operates now right like players have a lot more autonomy and freedom to move around. So you know, you can like a team but you know, you liked the Lakers because of magic and Kareem and James worthy, right? You know, shot you like Chicago, because the MJ so if they moved me a different story, you had to make some adjustments.
Traci Thomas 5:43
See, I’m from Oakland. I’m a warriors fan. Yeah, I was a warriors fan my whole life. Yeah, it’s weird to be a warriors fan. Now because everybody’s a warriors fan. I always tell the story. I was a warriors fan when we were going to see you know, the 13 win season. And so I just I can’t get behind the player thing. I’m such a team person. But who are the players that you’re into? Who are the players that you follow?
Mitchell S. Jackson 6:08
Well, I like LeBron. I like Steph. I like Yanis. I mean, yeah, I guess that’s like kind of wack because those are the players that everyone likes. But I guess I’m saying because I like greatness.
Traci Thomas 6:24
Yeah. Okay. I’ll take that. I’ll take that. Okay, why basketball and fashion. What was exciting to you about this project? Why did you want to take it on?
Mitchell S. Jackson 6:33
Ever since I was a little kid, I love fashion. I mean, I used to browse so many GQ magazines and Esquire’s and read my uncle’s closets, even when I couldn’t afford it, and my uncle used to work at St. Vincent DePaul, just kind of like a Salvation Army for us. And he would say like going to the store and get, get what you want. So being Ibrowse and other people’s, you know, leftover Hami downs. So I’ve loved fashion since I was little. And then I played basketball. I played all the way through junior college. I like to think I was good. My last year playing I averaged over 20 So I wasn’t I wasn’t a bad player.
Traci Thomas 7:15
So yes, position.
Mitchell S. Jackson 7:18
Guard. I was supposed to be a point guard. I was really undersized, too, because I like to shoot. Yeah, so so that is like my kind of baseline. And then I think if you’re paying attention even remotely, you know that we’re living in a really big era of fashion and professional sports. And, yeah, now basketball has led the way in that so that all made sense when they brought the idea to me which was my my editor at Hearst. He’s the one that brought the idea to me it it just it made sense.
Traci Thomas 7:51
Okay. I, I love the book. I love the photos. I loved hearing sort of your analysis, I could have done like 100 more pages of you talking about it. Like this books too short for me. I need more pictures more more Mitchell. But one of the so when I was at NYU, I wrote a paper that I’ve talked about on the show a lot. It’s my most famous work of homework I ever did, which was about hip hop. It was a hip hop culture class taught by Jason King, do you know Jason King. Now that USD, he’s like, sort of like a famous Hip Hop writer, academic guy. Anyways, I didn’t know that at the time. I was just like, Oh, Mr. King, but he we can write about anything we wanted related to hip hop for our final paper. And I wrote about hip hop and basketball because I read this great article by David Xyron. And his books are a great essay. And I was like, I want to write about it. And I talked a lot about David Stern being the police of fashion around Allen Iverson. The reason that it’s my most famous piece of homework is because it’s the most thing, the thing I’m most proud of. I was like, I’m really a junior. But a question that I’ve always had, and I hope you have the answer to me. Because so often we’re told that like malice in the palace, that fight was like to blame for the dress code. But I always had questions about that, because they were in uniform during that time. Yeah. Right. Like, it wasn’t, it wasn’t as if they were outside the arena after the game wearing baggy jeans, oversized jersey. So I’m wondering like, how you see if you see that moment as actually being crucial for the dress code or, or if there was were other like inciting incidents?
Mitchell S. Jackson 9:36
Yeah. I’m glad that you said that. Because I think Inciting Incidents is a way to look at it or maybe broader context like, I think we have to look at malice in the palace in relationship to Michael Jordan, which is the area that comes before Iverson’s era, right. And so those guys were they were like 80s level celebrities or 90s and I was like, where you you didn’t really let people into your life, you know, like, everything you did was perfect. And Jordan was the best example of that. You know, there was a little stuff with him gambling but even that think I kept down right and Wednesday, I can’t make tamped it down. So. So I recently I think was a representative of like, the antithesis of Michael Jordan. And he’s also, they can clearly see that he’s the most impactful player of that era, right? So we’re leaving Jordan, and we’re going into an era of Iverson. And he could be I think he could be perceived as like fucking up the money. Right? Like Jordan has got us to this apex. And here comes this young guy, who is hip hop, right? I think I was sent an IR a few months apart in age and, uh, okay. So I think, you know, there there’s, I remember listening to Sugar Hill gang, I can picture the candy cane like there is not a time in my life where Hip Hop didn’t exist. But for those players right before Iverson, they remember that when they were young Hip Hop didn’t exist yet. You know, so. So I think the malleus and the palace was the tipping point. But it has to be seen in the context of like, the new guard has taken on an aesthetic that makes people uncomfortable. And that hip hop is already seen as this like, brash, we don’t listen by like they built that on a counterculture. It is a counterculture, right. It begins counterculture. So if you’re, if you are David Stern, your league is culture. You can’t have the leading person in this air be counterculture is like not good for the league.
Traci Thomas 11:42
I feel like what’s interesting about basketball when it comes to like the product and the players is that so many of the arena’s are filled with white, middle aged, yes, wealthy people, but so many of the people on the court who make the product are young black people, and it’s at odds constantly in a way that I feel like other sports. It doesn’t feel that way. Like I think about games and like Utah, and yeah, exactly. Their thing recently was like, like a few years ago with Russell Westbrook. Yeah, and I just think about that, and like, with the dress code specifically, it just feels so punitive. You know, like, you’re punishing your product for being who they are. I don’t know. I don’t know. Like, does the dress code still exist? Because they’d be wearing different things now.
Mitchell S. Jackson 12:36
Technically it does. It’s just not enforced anymore. I don’t know if they ever took it off-
Traci Thomas 12:41
They’re wearing T-shirts and stuff, you know? And I’m like, Huh? I mean, I love to see it. But I definitely feel like it’s you think it’s on the books, but it’s just like, silver who has no spine just like-
Mitchell S. Jackson 12:54
I think he has a spine. I just think he’s a different era. Like he, Adam Silver damn near grew up with hip hop. Like he I think he’s I don’t know if he’s 60. Right. So that’s, that’s different than a Western?
Traci Thomas 13:10
Yeah. Yeah. I just think he knows. I don’t think he has a spine. He was born in 1962. So he just he’s 61. Yeah. See one? Yeah. So he grew up here. Yeah. And I mean, I also think that like the NBA needed an atom silver, they couldn’t have another Datastore. Right. Yeah, sure. Yeah, LeBron, wouldn’t. LeBron needs space to be in charge? Favorite started in Him would just clash. In the book, you don’t you demarcate the book by era, and not by like, decade or whatever, wasn’t easy for you to come up with the eras? Or did you have a hard time like figuring out what was what and how did you ultimately decide?
Mitchell S. Jackson 13:56
Yeah, I had a hard time. I had to, I mean, so it was built on the aesthetics. Why? So I had to, like, look at a lot of pictures, and try to figure out when the shifts happen. So that’s the first thing. So, you know, if you’re looking at say, oh, man, so a lot of people look different and 68 than they did and 50. They’re just like, Okay, well, what’s happened in the 68? That’s important. So it was a lot of that. And it was a lot harder, obviously, in the areas that I wasn’t alive for. Right? Like I can’t sure, but I knew that irisin was going to be something I knew that you know, I had to talk about Instagram in the way that shape when we talked about 1949 I had less of a handle on that. And also finding pictures of those guys was a lot harder to Yeah, I think it was attractive to do it by decades, because you know, the NBA 50 and the NBA 75. So, but it just it didn’t really make sense because a decade doesn’t really know it. Any shift except for time passing.
Traci Thomas 15:03
Right? How did you research the older the older decades like the 50s 60s 70s?
Mitchell S. Jackson 15:10
Yeah, a lot of reading up on the that time period and who were the good players? In then once I found out who the players were then kind of going back and looking at okay, well who can I find some photos of Bob Cousy? Obviously the stars were a lot easier to find. But I mean, it was so few stars back then. So yeah, doing a lot of that and then finding the name like the three guys that that broke the color barrier. Were harder to find, right? It’s, it’s hard to get them in street close to. Right. Right, right. So if you notice that URL in there in the in the book early on the stars, there’s you know, we’ll in you know, some Bill Russell, but it’s harder to find, you know, those other guys in street clothes.
Traci Thomas 16:01
Okay, I have to do superlatives with you. Because it’s my dream. Okay? Who, who are your best and worst dressed and most ambitiously dressed now? And then ever in the history of basketball?
Mitchell S. Jackson 16:16
Okay, my best dressed. That’s hard. I’m gonna pick two people. Because cuz I think LeBron is fashionable. And I think I think as a kind of, like, I feel like also the hip hop effect on it. It’s aspirational. And I think LeBron dresses like most people would want to dress if they were the star of a professional sports league. Sure, sure. I think in terms of style. Che is probably the leader. So so he’s, he’s, I feel like his look is not translatable to the masses, but that he’s figured out a way to represent himself in a way that feels stylish. I want to demarcate between style and fashion, right. So fashion is like, you know what brands to wear? You You know what’s in season, what isn’t right, like you can pick that stuff. And there’s a lot of fashionable players in the league.
Traci Thomas 17:22
I think LeBron is fashionable.
Mitchell S. Jackson 17:23
Yes. Right. That’s what I’m saying. He’s fashionable. Yeah. So so if you knew everything to wear and the right brand, like you get to Tiffany Jordans, or the Tiffany Air Force ones, like, you’re fashionable, but then when you’re like, doing something different than other people can’t imagine. I feel like that’s the Jordan Clarkson. That’s the CHE that’s so those guys. And I think, you know, it’s probably arguable between Jordan Clarkson and che because they really have kind of their own particular aesthetic. But those guys feel more fashionable like, years down the line. They’re going to look different, but it’s going to look like them.
Traci Thomas 17:58
Got it? What about worse dress? Don’t get out of worse. Stress worse. I know who I think it is Tyler hero. I was gonna say Steph Curry.
Mitchell S. Jackson 18:08
Yeah. Steph has his moments though.
Traci Thomas 18:12
He dresses so embarrassing all the time. And I’m like, You’re too rich to not have something cute on my guy.
Mitchell S. Jackson 18:18
But you see that the photos that I have in here in I think it’s maybe the last air where he’s in the I think they shot him in the in the arena. And it’s for GQ, originally in GQ, but those are good. He has some nice Drees on he has like a stocking.
It has a real styling. Yeah, no question. Yeah, I don’t think his hips every day stylist is horrible if left to himself.
I don’t feel like Steph is the is the God but he’s also so nice. I don’t want to be too punitive on you.
Traci Thomas 18:48
He’s my favorite player, but he looks insane.
Mitchell S. Jackson 18:51
Yeah. But But I feel like the other thing about him is and this is why I distinguish between him and Tyler hero. Tyler, he wrote feels like he’s pressing for us to say that he’s fashionable and he always looks like he’s doesn’t feel comfortable. Right? Like he’s trying to be where Steph is just like I’m not a fashionable dude. I just put this on like, I don’t think Stephen his head is like that dude in terms of fashion.
Traci Thomas 19:19
Right. I agree with that. Um, my most well, I I’m a huge Russell Westbrook fan. Okay, I just love I think he’s I don’t think he’s always the best dress. Yeah, but I love the way he’s pushing. Yes. I think he’s like the most ambitious right. I really am a fan of Paul George. Yeah, he dresses Yeah, you like him? It’s sort of like a little more subtle if feels attainable, but also like it’s always fits right? Yeah. Which I feel like basketball players who wear clothes that fit right should get extra credit because that’s hard because of their body shapes and sizes. They’re not wearing a regular regular you know, size large it’s like a large triple extra law. Yes. Have I really liked him? I’ve been I should say my god sister. She dresses, Spidey? Yes. Yeah. And I love how he dresses but I’m also biased because I love her.
Mitchell S. Jackson 20:12
He’s solid, but he has a kind of frame that he has a weird why he walks crazy. He’s definitely blue footed or sound but he’s also like a short like he’s built like already and back damn near so the clothes look different on him. I do see what you’re saying about Paul George and I will say Paul, George and Rudy Gay are basically the same aesthetic. And had Rudy Gay was doing it first. Like he’s I think he’s Yeah, older player in the league. So though and but also, both of those guys are basically emulating where Melo is right now. It’s like, Sean athleisure. It’s like fear of God. You know, so.
Traci Thomas 20:49
It’s like comfy-chic. Which is my personal aesthetic as well.
Mitchell S. Jackson 20:54
Okay, see, now we know now we know. Yeah, yeah. And I just like that. Look, I think Westbrook is strange because Westbrook when he was trying to make himself into the fashion King was taking a lot more risk. But of late and especially when now that he’s promoting his brand. He looks regular.
Traci Thomas 21:12
He looks regular. Yeah, I actually I live in LA and I saw him out at dinner. And I was like, he’s wearing a white t shirt and jeans out there. He let me down and Russell Westbrook and I was like, What’s he wearing? And it was like the most basic shit. Yeah, it was like it was a cool cut T but it was just a white T Yeah. Okay, I promised that I was going to ask you about winning the Pulitzer. Because that’s first of all amazing. And second of all, what’s that day like? Yeah, cuz I feel like if you publish, like a book or something, you might have more of a sense like that you’re in the running. But yeah, if you publish an article, it’s sort of like, you know, how many articles are published a year? So I’m just wondering, like, did you have any were You were you thinking there was a chance? Like, were you thinking I wrote the shit out of this, which you did? A piece on ahmaud arbery. And runner runners runners?
Mitchell S. Jackson 22:05
Well, yeah, yeah. Okay. Yes, I had an idea. You did? Yeah. So I remember to take it all the way back the day that I published it. You know, I put it on Facebook. And one of my writer friends a woman named Marie Helene Bertino. She wrote on she was the first person to comment, I think. And she said in the winner of the touching sighs Pulitzer prize goes to Mitchell Jackson for this. And I it. I hadn’t thought about it before that because I’ve written dozens and dozens of things before and never once that I didn’t even know the process of the Pulitzer. But that story was also up for the National Magazine Awards. So I was already a finalist for that in the night before, so that because of the pandemic, the Sarah both ceremonies got shifted. So the National Magazine Awards were the night before the Pulitzer. So they were virtual. So I was on that night with the whole team at Hearst, and we won the National Magazine Award. So I’m like, floating, but I, again, I had never gone through that process. So I didn’t really understand it. So as soon as I finished, I got an email from the publicity director at hertz. And he was like, Mitch, I just want you to know, I don’t know how much you know about the National Magazine Award. He was like, but this is our Oscars. So I’m like, Oh, shit, okay, I feel good. Like, I’m celebrating this nice. Pulitzer ceremonies are the next war afternoon for me. I was living in Chicago at the time. And so now I’m like, I know from research that there have been people who have won both of those prizes, a few people before, so I’m like, oh, you know, it’s a possibility. But it was like, stressful. So I said, Man, look, I’m going to take a nap right now. Like, I don’t even want to be up when this thing happens. So when I lay down, but obviously it’s harder for me to go to sleep. It’s like noon in Chicago. And then I get a call from time but Jess, who won a Pulitzer I can’t remember what year for his poetry collection. I think it was Leadbelly that one. And Tiana was also an NYU grad graduated from with me at it in 2004, from NYU. So he calls me and I’m looking at my phone in time, but never calls me. Like we asked a couple times, but our phone calls I’m like, This is strange. Like, let me just answer and I answer. And he’s like, I was like, What’s up, man? He was like, man, congratulations. And I was like, congratulations for what? He was a man you don’t know. You just want to pull us I was like, Get out of here. And I didn’t I still kind of didn’t believe him. So I had to like, where do you find this out? Because they don’t. They’re not emailing you or anything. So I had to go on Twitter. Hey, He found out so when I saw the Pulitzer people posted on Twitter, I was like, oh, it’s real.
Traci Thomas 25:05
Oh my gosh. Okay, I don’t know, this might be like too weird of a big question. But you mentioned before your biography and like that you had gone to jail and like all this stuff, what is what is like winning the Pulitzer due to you? And like, does it change your perspective on yourself at all? Or? Or is it? Is it really just like an outside thing that feels nice? And like, it’s cool to add to your resume?
Mitchell S. Jackson 25:34
Nah, not Pulitzer. It, it changes things. I mean, it materially changed my life, because I was negotiating between two schools when it happened. So there’s that. But I think most all the writers that I know, if you set out to do this, and you Yeah, I don’t even know if you say you care. Most of the writers. I know, like, who wouldn’t? Who would say, I want to be a writer, and I don’t want to Pulitzer. So then if it happens, it’s both. It’s unbelievable. And you and I tried to take a moment to experience it like to feel what it feels like to do. I mean, I have been writing. I mean, I went to graduate school, my first one and 1999, I won a Pulitzer in 2021. So we’re talking more than 20 years of tapping on laptop keys, you know, so I want it to be present in that moment. And I And normally, like, it’s not the first award that I won, right, but like, normally a thing will happen. And I’ll give it a day. And I’ll be like, All right, like, you can’t concentrate on me, you got to make some, but I’m like, Nah, man, like, maybe you give yourself a week this time. But also, there was. So I have a fair number of writer friends for whom that matters. And then I have so many people in my life for whom the Pulitzer, they don’t even know what it is. I call my mom, I had a had like a massage already scheduled or something. And so I was leaving the house. And I remember backing out of my garage, and I call my mom and I was like, Mom, you will never believe this. Like, I just won a Pulitzer Prize. She was like, Oh, that’s great, baby. She’s like, What is it? And I was like, I needed that. I needed that in that moment to like, level it out.
Traci Thomas 27:26
Do you know the Do you know Van Lathan?
Mitchell S. Jackson 27:29
Yeah. I don’t know him personally. But yeah.
Traci Thomas 27:31
Do you know who he is? He won an Oscar a few years ago for a short film. And he in his book, he talks about how his dad was like, Why is everybody calling me congratulating me for this? Oscar? Yeah. And I just love that. Because that’s the truth about like family and growing up and stuff. It doesn’t matter. Like, whether it’s an Oscar or a Pulitzer or some other, you know, industry specific award, like the people in your life, they just love you. They don’t care. Yeah, like you care and your colleagues care and you know, people who are interested in consuming whatever it is that you make care. But the people who have known you since you were little, they don’t they already you already won the Pulitzer in their mind, already are the greatest writer they’ve ever met. And I think that’s like really humbling, and also really just like, fulfilling, nurturing and a lot of ways. Okay, one more Pulitzer question. You’re working on a book?
Mitchell S. Jackson 28:23
Yes. About the LA riots in ’65.
Traci Thomas 28:30
Oh, you’re doing Watts. Why did I think you were doing ’92?
Mitchell S. Jackson 28:33
Well, maybe you read about the ending? Because it ends in 92.
Traci Thomas 28:38
I didn’t know for some reason I thought it was- Anyways, that’s not the important part of the question. You’re working on a new novel you’ve been working on and I’m assuming for a while, does winning that prize? Fuck up your Juju at all? Like do you start to feel paralyzed by your own greatness or like being recognized for your own greatness?
Mitchell S. Jackson 28:59
No, not in the way I think you might be thinking like, for me, it created a set of expectations outside of the fiction work, right. So now it’s like, I mean, I was already doing the Esquire column, but it was fresh and but there’s a whole set. I think it made me really consider what do I say yes to now, you know, like, now that for some TV stuff coming to you say yes to that. How many events do you do or don’t do? How long? Right? I mean, every year there’s a new Pulitzer winner right? So like, if you don’t take advantage of the year that you won the Pulitzer right. And you you could be pushed so so there was a lot of that which is not none of this stuff. So I just make it like, there’s a line between me being an author and me being a writer, and to be a writer. I need quiet time. I need space and the time to read and I I’ve been an author so much probably I’ve been more of an author since a Pulitzer than I have been a writer really?
Traci Thomas 30:06
Do you enjoy being an author?
Mitchell S. Jackson 30:08
I’m comfortable with it. Like, I’m not one of those people where like, I’m an introvert and I can’t be around people. But then I also recognize is not doing the thing that I set out to do. Yeah, so it’s really hard to find. And I haven’t found that that that like right now we’re doing this right, which is author stuff, but I also have a column that’s due yesterday. How am I right? Yeah, right. I’m gonna get back to you, man. Don’t Don’t worry. Give me till Friday. It’s coming. Don’t worry. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 30:43
I appreciate that a lot actually, like the distinction between writing, writing and authoring. Ok, I did not prep you for this. But we do a second segment called Ask the Stacks where someone’s written in and they’re looking for a book recommendation. Okay. And I’m gonna read to you what they said. And then we’ll each give them some recommendations. You can do one or three or whatever. Okay, people listening you need to write in because I’m running low on submission. So email, askthestacks at the stackspodcast.com to get yours read on air. Okay, this comes from Deanna and they say my dad is retiring at the end of this year and we have recently bonded over books. I buy him a stack of titles for almost all the gift giving holidays and it is my personal mission to expand his horizons beyond the likes of Michael Crichton, Andy Weir and Dan Brown. favorites of the books that I’ve given him have been Homegoing by Jesse, Blackwater, rising by Attica, Locke and killers of the flower Moon by David Graham, his least favorite have been dangerous women by hope Adams and zone one by Colson Whitehead, which he said was hard to read, but not that he disliked it probably should give him another. The man loves a book with plot, especially if the novel space has space or spies. He likes to learn and once he retires, I think he’ll turn to reading for more intellectual stimulation. So dipping our toe in more narrative nonfiction could be an order. Any recommendations? Told me to go first so you can think about it?
Mitchell S. Jackson 32:14
I got a couple. Okay, go ahead. I would say Song of Solomon. In the way, you know, he’s searching for his father, or really his legacy is so many strong male figures, you know, milkman. So I’d say that and then because he had a bad time with his own one, I would give Kosan another spin and most people would probably say Underground Railroad but I would actually say Nico, boys.
Traci Thomas 32:42
That was on my list.
Mitchell S. Jackson 32:44
Yeah, So I’m gonna say those two.
Traci Thomas 32:47
That’s a really good I actually had both of those on my list and took both of them off. So I’m glad that I did. I went a different direction. So I went with The Sympathizer by Viet then when, because that has some spy elements. But it’s also got a lot of pot. There’s a lot going on. And it’s really great writing. I went for narrative nonfiction recommendation since you said we could dip our toe and I went with men we reaped. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite memoirs. It’s one of my favorite books. I think the writing style is really engaging, I think, start the book starts from the end and works its way down starts from the end and works its way to the beginning there. Yeah. And then also, I went with a super plot heavy novel, home fire by Camila Shamsi, which I love is not spies. It’s not spies. But it is about it’s a retelling of Antigone, and it has like this family drama, and it’s set in England and America. And also, I want to say Iran, but maybe it’s Iraq, I can’t remember somewhere in the Middle East, like and it’s like, got like ISIS tight. You know, whatever. It’s really, really good. The ending is insane. We did not hear on this show. So people who are listening, probably know. And then the last thing I would say, and I think this was sort of in the Michael crate, and Dan Brown Andy Weir space. But I just would like to give a plug for one of my favorite authors Jon Krakauer, he is super duper dad nonfiction. I love him. He’s got books on everything. They’re all super engaging. So those are our RX data. If you give them to your dad, and he likes any of them, let us know. And everyone else, email us the stacks, the stacks podcast.com To get your book recommendations, read on the air. And now Mitchell, we’re going to talk about all of your favorite and least favorite books. We start here always two books you love one book you hate.
Mitchell S. Jackson 34:36
Two books I love. Well, I’m not going to mention Song of Solomon. So the books that when I was in graduate school, and I read them and I was like, oh, I want to be able to do this. We’re actually two short story collections. One of them is Jesus’s son by Dennis Johnson.
Traci Thomas 34:56
We’ve done that on this show. I hated it.
Mitchell S. Jackson 34:59
I love Got that, but Oh, I love that.
Traci Thomas 35:01
But I think I’m too stupid for that. Like that’s like a writer’s block. Yeah, that’s a book for right? Yes, yes.
Mitchell S. Jackson 35:07
Yes, no question. Yeah. And then drowned by Junot Diaz and drown was a book where I, we have a different experience, right? He’s Dominican, he grew up in jersey, black and grew up in the Northwest or Portland. But I recognize those young men or boys, and in the way that they were being sensitized to gender and violence and what it meant to be a man. Yeah. And then the voice and and even the aesthetic of the page I did, you know, wasn’t using quotation marks. And if you look at my first book, there are no quotation marks. So it was a lot of stuff. And I think probably also, because I’m not a, I wasn’t a big reader. So to have short story collections where I can take one or two at a time and really digest them and go back and reread them. That was really important to me, too.
Traci Thomas 36:01
Okay, wait, before you tell us the book you hit have two follow up questions. One is, if you were not a big reader, how did you know you wanted to be a writer? Yeah. And then the other one is just about quotation marks. Why? What do you think that it adds to the book to leave them out?
Mitchell S. Jackson 36:16
Okay. I mean, I have said that I came to reading through writing that I thought I wanted to tell the story of my life. This is actually when I was in prison. And because I was already a college student as well, like, I knew that I didn’t have the capabilities craft wise to do what I wanted to do. So then I started going to school for writing. And because I wanted to be a writer, they’re like, Well, you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader. So I’ve actually never read for pleasure. I’ve never picked up a book in my life and say, I just want to read this thing. Really? I know. Yes. Sad, isn’t it?
Traci Thomas 36:54
Don’t you have that impulse ever. It’s not sad. I’m the opposite. I am a reader. Yeah, I love to read. I hate writing. But I do have to write perfect. Write a column, which I hate writing is the bane of my existence. And I never write for pleasure. I don’t journal I don’t like to write. So I totally understand what you’re saying. It’s just I’ve never heard a writer. Yeah, say that.
Mitchell S. Jackson 37:16
Yeah. So that that is my experience that I came to it kind of backwards. And then what was the second quote, my quote? I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people. I mean, I read up a lot about why others didn’t do it. And one of the things that most struck me was, when you take solace, it’s almost like when you take out the quote, marks is it’s harder to delineate, what is speech from what is narrative, but then also, what is kind of dream, like, from what isn’t. And so, in thinking about my first novel, it even now like there are things that I have written about in the rest of the years, that I’m actually now uncertain as to what the real memory is, like, Is it the one that I created and residue? Or is it my memory, and I would actually need to call people around that memory to actually figure out what’s true. So so so the, the omission of quotation marks, it really like it. To me, it speaks to how my memory works.
Traci Thomas 38:23
Okay, what’s a book you hate? You’re not getting out of that.
Mitchell S. Jackson 38:25
Yeah, well, that’s hard. But to me begin, because, for me, every book is a textbook. And so if I hate it, and there really isn’t a hate, it’s either like, oh, I don’t see anything that’s valuable for me. Or, um, and then that in that case, I probably would put it out. I can’t remember the last book I put down, but let me think of a book that I just stack over here. Okay, so I’m here. And here it is. I study with this guy named Gordon lish, who I think is still alive, but must be in his 99 or something. And he was the most famous editor, probably in publishing in the 1980s. He used to edit Raymond Carver. And he also added this guy named Barry Hannah. Very Hannah is a Southern writer. He’s from Mississippi. And he had a short story collection called ray which he published I want to say in the 60s, maybe it was like, early 70s. But so I read it when I was studying with Lish and I was really just thinking about language. Like I was like, Okay, there’s a template for how to make sentences very, very, Hannah’s one of the greatest prose stylists, maybe ever. And I reread I was teaching a workshop about Ray, probably five years ago, so I had to reread Ray and there is so much racism because it’s set in Mississippi in the 1950s. And so rereading it it. And I was like, How the fuck did I miss all it? And then I actually started my lecture by apologizing to the students for the to making them read it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it’s strange because given the context of me just as a writer, I was looking at sentences and syntax and metaphor. And I was like, Okay, well, right. And then all these years later, I’m like, looking at it through the lens of maybe a scholar or something, and was totally different.
Traci Thomas 40:26
Okay, I want to go back to this not reading for pleasure. Yes, I need to know what you do for like, pleasure relaxation, reading. Yeah. And also or like hobby, and then also, do you enjoy reading? Or can you not? Can you not get to that place? Because you’re always thinking about what you’re reading as far as like a tool for your own writing?
Mitchell S. Jackson 40:50
Um, yes, I enjoy reading. But I enjoy reading for a different reason. I think that most people I think most people are reading for like story. They want to like, I want to know how it ends, and I don’t I read for language. So I’m constantly underlining like, is this a great metaphor? What’s this word that I haven’t? I don’t know. I haven’t seen us like this. And when I find that in work, it gives me joy. Because I’m like,
Traci Thomas 41:20
You’re like an English teacher’s dream. Yeah. I guess I found a simile. Like the nerd who I hate. I’m like, okay, Michel, we get it. Yeah, the moon is like a star or whatever. The moon is like a glass of milk.
Mitchell S. Jackson 41:38
That’s me. That’s me. That is me. But that’s so pleasurable. Like the books that I love. You look at them. I mean, they’re marked, marked, marked up.
Traci Thomas 41:48
Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited for us to do book club because I’m the total opposite reader. Yeah, we’re reading severance. And I’m, like, so excited about because I’m like, I can’t wait for a pandemic novel. Like a big picture reader. Sometimes a word or a moment will jump out at me. There has to be outstanding. Do you know what I mean? I’m not going to see a little narrative tool. The only the only like English teacher thing that I’m really into is alliteration. Yeah. Sometimes read out loud. I love alliteration. theater person. Yeah. Like, oh, when you hear it out loud, you’re like, oh, there’s so much you could do it. Or whatever. But I’m the total opposite reader of you. So now I’m extra excited. Yeah,
Mitchell S. Jackson 42:28
I mean, that’s why I like reading. Beckett, you know, like, alliteration there. August Wilson, right. Like to me August.
Traci Thomas 42:38
My A one. Yeah. Oh, he’s a- Tim and Shakespeare for me. Yeah, those are my two playwrights and I love Shakespeare, which is all language. But I love it for different reasons. I think that most people Yeah. Okay, what’s the last great book you read?
Mitchell S. Jackson 42:52
So strange, because again, I never that there are no books that I just pick up. You know, it was always like, I’m like tonight, I’m doing an event with Jackie Woodson. So we learn with this. I gotta finish Jackie book have 20 questions for her. So I mean, I read that book. I did an event with him. I think it’s a really great book, but I feel that almost feels like cheating. Because they told me to read the book. You know, like, it is great. But then so I’m trying to think of a book that I just picked up.
Traci Thomas 43:24
That’s not cheating, though.
Mitchell S. Jackson 43:25
Okay. All right. So, so you can do that. Chain Gang? Yes, Chain Gang. Oh, I didn’t finish yet. But this, to me is a travesty that this is not for the National Book Award. But Nicole C. Lee’s the Ferguson project or think, oh, for poetry. Yeah. I read. Yeah, the probably more poetry than I read. Narrative. Or prose?
Traci Thomas 43:54
Interesting. Do you Would you ever write poetry?
Mitchell S. Jackson 43:57
I would. But for me to write poetry, I would probably I would have to study it. Like I would have to become a copy column fellow and go for some because because it’s like, if you go, it’s not something that I would treat lightly. No. And I think the expectation like I can’t just dabble in some writing shit. Like it actually be good.
Traci Thomas 44:17
I get the sense. You said at the beginning you like players that are great. You like greatness. And I can tell that that’s clearly something but you also put that standard on yourself. Right? Yeah, that you’re not just gonna put something out that you don’t think it’s like yeah, it’s an attempt at least an attempt at greatness. Right? Yeah. Which I appreciate because I too like greatness. I don’t people who are okay with mediocrity? I don’t get it. Yeah, like doesn’t, does not compute for me, right? Like I can’t I don’t understand it. Anyways. What are you reading right now besides Jackie Watson’s book?
Mitchell S. Jackson 44:52
I’m reading Terrance Hayes new collection, so to speak. Okay. I’m rereading. Sophie, here’s how to say Babylon. Like, I mean, obviously I read it while I was being drafted, but um, I want to see it in the in the book form. And oh, I read the first two stories. And if I survive you first store is like, amazing. So yeah, so that’s that’s what I got open.
Traci Thomas 45:27
How do you pick what you’re going to read next? I’m especially interested in this since I know now that you read, like, you’re looking for something sort of when you’re Yeah. How do you decide what’s a pickup if it’s not for work? Yeah, it’s not for like an event.
Mitchell S. Jackson 45:40
So it’s, it’s for poetry, right? Like, which poets do I love? And it’s probably a point that I’ve already read or I’ll ask for recommendations. Like I’m on a thread with a bunch of poets and probably three people on there got Pulitzers on this thread. So I’m feel comfortable saying like, hey, whose collection should I be reading? And then on the pro side, I’ll take Rex but I’ll read like the first story or if you’re and I’m like, Man, if I, if I will see it in there. Like if I if I can see that you’re not a pro stylist, I’m putting it down. I’m not looking for your tricks and plot. The last book that I kind of discovered on my own Actually, I didn’t discover it was Brian Washington’s lot.
Traci Thomas 46:28
I love that but I just did an event with him the other day. Yes, new book?
Mitchell S. Jackson 46:32
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that that book like it to me. It was like a gay Houston version of drown. Hmm. And I and I say that bit with drown being like, in my top three collections like that all in hangers, children, drown and lot or those are my those are my ones.
Traci Thomas 46:56
Yeah. Love that. Are there any genres that you avoid?
Mitchell S. Jackson 47:01
Yeah, any, any I don’t read fantasy. Which is sucks because my students are writing fantasy. So I have to read a little bit. But like, if left to my own devices, I’m not reading fantasy I’m not reading. I don’t read any genre stuff, I guess is because I feel like the emphasis is on plot. And once you kind of understand plot, you know, on a technical level, it’s like you can do what you need to do. Planning wise.
Traci Thomas 47:28
Right? Do you ever listen to audiobooks?
Mitchell S. Jackson 47:31
I have not. I tried, oh, actually, the only audio book that I’ve ever listened to beginning to end was caste.
Traci Thomas 47:41
Oh, yeah. Interesting. What did you think of that?
Mitchell S. Jackson 47:44
Again, the reason why- because I can’t remember. What I remember was, it was a lot of great anecdotes, and thinking that like, basically, that you understand the whole book, in the first, like, the premise of what caste is and how it works. You get very early and then everything else is like just an example of that thing.
Traci Thomas 48:05
Yeah, I read that book off the page. And I felt the same. I think also that book was very disappointing for me because The Warmth of Other Suns was such an important book, as is such an important book. And so I was like, expecting that level of like, oh, yeah, it was sort of just like, this is a book.
Mitchell S. Jackson 48:22
Yeah. You do that twice. You know, like, how many people have done The Warmth of Other Suns twice.
Traci Thomas 48:33
How many people have done The Warmth of Other Suns once?
Mitchell S. Jackson 48:35
That’s what I’m saying. Yeah. So like, you know, think about the authors that hit that. Do you get it again?
Traci Thomas 48:43
I am the person I am most looking forward to their next book is do you know that book blood in the water about the Attica prison up right? Yes, yes. by Heather Anton. Next book.
Mitchell S. Jackson 48:53
Yeah. She was right. Something right.
Traci Thomas 48:55
No, it’s about the move bombing. Yes, yes. That’s my Yeah. Yeah. So she is the person because blood in the water is one of my all time favorites. I think it’s like, just so incredible. So she’s the person that I like, if you can do it twice. She might be the one to do it. Yeah. Fingers crossed.
Mitchell S. Jackson 49:12
Have you ever read John Edgar Wiseman’s Philadelphia Fire? It’s a novel that won the pen Faulkner award. And it is about that mood bombing as well.
Traci Thomas 49:21
So, ok, I’ll check it out. I will. I will I love that’s my favorite kind of fiction. It’s like fiction about a historical event that I’m interested in, which is why I’m so excited about your book. No, I did think about the 92 riots, but 65 is also great for me. I love Orion. I’m available at any time to read about everybody’s cry. It doesn’t matter when or where do you have a favorite bookstore?
Mitchell S. Jackson 49:47
Powell’s, man, I’m a Portland guy. Feels grand when you’re in there.
Traci Thomas 49:54
Yeah, yeah, I remember the first time I went there. I was like, Whoa, yeah, it’s amazing. Yeah. Um, What’s your ideal reading setup? Where are you? location, time of day and their snack and beverage situation.
Mitchell S. Jackson 50:08
Early in the morning. Anything that has to do with my mind is best in the morning. And if it’s probably right after I’ve written something that I love, and I need to take a break, so if I get up in the morning, and I don’t write and I start reading, then I feel guilty that I haven’t written. But if I have already done something like okay, cool, like, I feel good today, and I still got some energy then I’m like, Okay, this is a great and it’s also probably going to inspire me to write something that’s so crazy, because I’ll be reading and I’ll see one word that will solve an issue that I had in my where it could just be a single word, I’ll be like, Oh, shit, this was a word that I needed to encounter to solve this other thing that I was doing over here.
Traci Thomas 50:57
That’s so cool. That’s cool. Because like, also like gives your reading life so much purpose. Yeah, like that. You could uncover something at any moment. Yeah. Okay, what’s the last book that made you laugh?
Mitchell S. Jackson 51:11
Bliss Montage. Ling Ma.
Traci Thomas 51:18
What about the last book that made you angry?
Mitchell S. Jackson 51:22
I think when we talk about these kind of intense emotions, I’ve always I felt like I had already gone through so much personal shift by the time I came to reading, which I was in my 20s that I was like, How dare you get upset about some make believe shader. So you know, so So I think that that kind of colors it but I will say that there are things that I read, like reading about Hamas, you know, and what’s happened like, that angers me and that’s real. But but but like, on the fiction side, maybe in changing just the like, for what it made me think about criminal justice. And the way that people are dehumanized and sigh like there’s, there’s nothing I’m going to next week with Dwayne Betts to, to, to Otisville prison, his see him set up his 200 library. And, and one of the things no matter and I do a lot of not as much as him, but I visit a fair number of prisons myself. And the one thing that I know that I have in common with anyone that’s on the inside, is they have been debased by coming through a prison. So where they make you strip and tell you to bend over and cough and spread like that, to me is the most dehumanizing thing. And for when I look a man in the eye, or whoever it is a woman in the eye or whatever their gender is, like, I know that they’ve been through that.
Traci Thomas 52:55
Yeah, yeah. Okay, it’s just have like two or three more for you. Are there any books that you feel? Embarrassed? Or maybe that’s not the right word for never having read?
Mitchell S. Jackson 53:08
Yeah. Yeah. Moby Dick. I’m actually not letting bears but we used to do a reading of this. This woman named Polly Bresnik used to put on a, I don’t know what you call them, but it was like 50 authors reading Moby Dick all across New York. And you would get like, you know, four pages to read. So I’ve read I did that maybe three years. So I read probably 25 or 70. And I will read it a little bit before a little after, but I’m like, Man, this shit too long. Like for me again, because I’m not a reader. I feel like if I spend 1000 pages reading one book, that’s four books that I might have learned something craft wise from Yeah, and I spent only in that one space.
Traci Thomas 53:54
Yeah, yeah. That’s really interesting. If you were a high school English teacher, what is a book that you would assign to your students?
Mitchell S. Jackson 54:05
The fire The Fire Next Time.
Traci Thomas 54:09
Okay. And then this is the last one for you. I stole this from the New York Times. Fire the current president of the United States to read one book, what would you want it to be?
Mitchell S. Jackson 54:17
It would be something about retirement. Like how to know when to quit. When you’ve passed your moment, you need to do some soul searching.
Traci Thomas 54:31
True, truly stepped down.
Mitchell S. Jackson 54:33
Traci Thomas 54:35
Thank you so much. This was amazing. I’m just a little obsessed with you. And so you’re coming back and we’re gonna get to talk more about severance bilinga on November 29. So everyone, get your copy read with us. If you want 10% off the book. You can order it through my independent bookstore reparations club and use your code STACKS10 and you’ll get 10% off the book. But, Mitchell, thank you so much.
Mitchell S. Jackson 54:57
Thank you. Thank you. I want to add on just a little Plug link mine I have the same editor. So Jenna Johnson. I hope she can I hope she can bring some of that link modules to my novel about the 65 and 92 revolts.
Traci Thomas 55:16
And with that we will see you all in the stacks
All right, y’all. That does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening and thank you to Mitchell Jackson for being my guest. I’d also like to thank a lot of gold for helping to make this conversation possible. Remember this month book club pick is the post apocalyptic pandemic novel severance by Ling Ma. We will discuss the book on Wednesday, November 29. With Mitchell s Jackson. If you love this show, and you want inside access to it head to patreon.com/thestacks and for just $5 a month you can join the stacks pack. Make sure you’re subscribed wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening to Apple podcast, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. We are so close to 2000 reviews. For more from the stacks follow us on social media at the Stackspod on Instagram threads and tick tock and at the stacks pod underscore on Twitter, and you can check out our website at the stats podcast.com This episode of the stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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