20 November 2020

Who's Your Daddy by Arisa White Book Tour and Interview! @PoeticBookTours


About the Book:

Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father. (Check out that cover!)

Advance Praise:

"...absence breeds madness, an irreconcilable relationship you know is there but can’t call it by its name..." In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender and unerring.
-Patricia Smith, Incendiary Art

Arisa White channels the ear of Zora NealE Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.
-Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins

Somewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s “a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork fashion...” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an
absent parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and presence, there’s a mother who says you raise your daughters, and love your sons, there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts,
cousins, a grandmother, brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love. Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.
-Dara Wier, You Good Thing

How does a lyric memoir—a queered-up autobiographical hybrid of prose and poetry—become a real page-turner? Well, for one thing, its speaker uses her authenticity and open-heartedness to generate a rib-cracking amount of courage to look for, find, and emotionally confront a missing Guyanese father who ends up being the “unhello” of a “nevermind.” What’s so moving about this discovery is the speaker’s lyric response. It’s a shrug that’s a song that’s the speaker telling it experimentally-straight about how it feels to have “arms free of fathers.” It’s a story that’s a song that’s the speaker’s “gangster swagger” that beautifully tells of how to confront one’s relation to “a culture of deadbeats, wannabes, has-beens, what-ifs, [and] can’t-shows” without succumbing to despair. One really wants to quote Plath’s line here about “eat[ing] men like air.” Oh, I love the courage of this book. The whole “black heart” and love-strength of it. And you will too!
-Adrian Blevins, Appalachians Run Amok

A lyric anthem for the fatherless, for seekers of the places and people that made us, for the artists ready to unearth and reshape their own stories. I gulped this exquisite manual like precious medicine, a spell that made me more myself.
-Melissa Febos, Abandon Me

Collaborative, interactive, this work of poetry and memoir offers life as a recurring question. Who’s Your Daddy is a study of how power and loss work on the intimate scales of daily living and queer loving. Read this with compassion for your own defining questions
and the raw texture they have left upon your heart.
-Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony

Who’s Your Daddy is striking and gorgeous. “I’m born into a bracket of boys,” White writes, framing a portrait of fatherhood that shutters and aches; it enthralls. I wanted to lap it up. A reflection on family that permeates via knitted prose with deep verse—my favorite kind.
White’s work is sonic, lyric, and important. I can’t wait for y’all to read this book.
-Emerson Whitney, Heaven

About the Poet:

ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accidentand “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.

Interview with Author

1. What's your favorite memory from your childhood?

I was in kindergarten. I decided to not go to class because I wanted to play in the snow. It was falling, it was powdery accumulation on the ground. While everyone was going off into the school building, I went off into the off-limits courtyard, making fresh tracks, populating the snow with angels. At one point, I went into the playground that faced the window of my kindergarten classroom. Waved to my classmates from the jungle gym and of course my fun soon ended once my teacher spotted me. The principal came outside and yelled, Young lady, you’re supposed to be in school!

2. Is there one moment from your childhood that you can recall that spurred you to become a writer?

In eighth grade, I wrote an essay for my younger brother—he was a fifth-grader at the time. The essay won first place for his grade. (I entered the same contest for my grade, but it didn’t place.) I can’t remember what the theme was about, but the moment taught me something about the passage of time and subjectivity: I could embody a deeper sense of truth when I spoke about what I’ve done and where I’ve been. And by inhabiting a persona, a fifth-grade boy’s voice—a vehicle by which to shift perspective—offered sharper clarity and insight into my own experiences.

3. In the memoir Who's Your Daddy, the images in your poems are vivid and realistic. Did you look through old photographs, rely on your memory or relatives' memories, or something else? What other sources did you rely on?

A lot is from memory and imagination. What was told to me, what I remembered and recorded in journals. There were books and articles that helped frame my feelings, help me to see a father’s absence as a presence in my life. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe was one such book. Hybrid, genre-bending memoir collections like Ladies Lazarus by Piper Daniels, Emerson Whitney’s Heaven, and You Da One by Jennifer Tamayo gave me ways of looking that were generative and offered creative responses to my own questions about how to write this book, how to write about an absence in my life.


In graduate school, for a literature course on the trope of descent in modern poetry, I wrote a paper on water bodies being conjunctions, specifically “and.” My father was deported back to his country, “Guyana,” which means “land of many waters” in Arawak. Water became a motif in the book. Astrologically, I am a water sign. The element’s fluidity and defiance would disobey borders and bridge distance—water, I imagine in Who’s Your Daddy, would be the conjunctive experience between me and my father.

4. There are some early signs of trauma in the poems from a police raid to a last visit from your dad. How did the crafting of this memoir and its poems help you heal and do you have any words of wisdom for others dealing with similar situations?

In order to get to the point where you make from your life something creative, especially when working with traumatizing experiences, the healing has to happen in multiple ways. I like to think that you are writing from your scars, and not your wounds. You are writing from the time and perspective it takes to be well, so that you can offer others your journey and not your trip. There are the friends, therapists, cognitive behavioral group therapy, Science of Mind classes, yoga on Mondays, massage, acupuncture, podcasts from self-help gurus, self-help books, meditations and mantras, community and love and family willing to make amends and remind you they are here.

One of the ways Who’s Your Daddy came to be was from a series of community writing workshops I facilitated in the San Francisco Bay Area. I held space for people to write letters to their estranged, absent, and dead fathers and patriarchal figures. Through a call for submissions, and by way of these workshops, folks could exchange their letter with me for a chapbook of epistolary poems that I addressed to my father. Reading their letters were humbling—we all shared similar stories, we all seem to have the same father. We were all working through similar personal problems and doubts. Recognizing that I’m not alone decentralizes the I, makes it less self-centered, which can be the downfall to any memoir, and more intersectional. When writing from a place of connectivity, interconnectedness, from a healed wound, the writing itself will be an extension of the ways that you are whole.

5. Other writers who write memoirs will change the names in their work to protect family members. Was this a concern for you? Did you show it to your family for their approval/blessing before you decided to publish Who's Your Daddy?

Most of the names have been changed in the book, for the exception of my mother and father’s first names. My mother set me on this journey, asking me on my 33rd birthday, if I wanted to write my father in Guyana. Then a few years later, with assistance from a Center for Cultural Innovation grant, I was able to plan a trip to South America. While there, my father gave me permission to write his stories. My immediate family received advanced review copies of the book, and my mother and grandmother enjoyed it.


At some point, along the way, I gave myself the permission to write this book and to trust in the process that was forming. And that was my most-needed permission because I took creative risks that grew me as a writer. Having to creatively labor in absence, in the nothingness, you begin to truly renovate your world.

6. When taking it to publication, given its genre bending nature, did you find that the road was harder than with previous books? Explain a little bit about the book's publishing journey.

The publication journey was an easy one. Augury Books is the same press who published my previous collection of poetry You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. My editor, Kate Angus, gave it a first-read in spring 2018, just before I moved across the country to Maine. She loved it. With Kate’s edits, Who’s Your Daddy began to take its genre-bending shape. The first draft was far more prose, and she suggested opening up the narrative to include childhood moments and to bring more poetry into the work.

7. What's next for you? Will you be writing another poetry collection? Something else?

I’m working on a poetic narrative, set in place like Oakland, California. The main character is completing a nine-stage heroine’s journey. I’m hoping to use my sabbatical in spring 2022 to complete a first draft. Right now, there are pieces here and there, and I think I may have figured out the opening.

Thank you ARISA WHITE for answering these questions!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for interviewing Arisa. What a great interview.