Q&A with MK Asante: Overcoming 'Killadelphia'
Despite having a renowned scholar for a dad and a respected gang member for a brother, MK Asante still wasn’t protected from the gritty, drug-infested, gang-ridden violence of “Killadelphia, Pistolvania” in the ’90s.
On the outside, Asante’s a smart kid, growing up in an Afrocentric home in Philadelphia in the shadow of his dad: professor and author Dr. Molefi Kete Asante.
But Asante hates school. He’s got a brother in prison, a mentally ill sister and a mother who checked into a psychiatric hospital. When his dad walks out, he drops out of school, joins a gang, straps on a gun and hits the streets selling drugs, until he slips up on a deal and goes into hiding.
Three books, a film with Maya Angelou and a music collaboration with Talib Kweli later, and Asante, 30, now a professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, credits those Killadelphia streets for who he is today in his memoir “Buck.”
amNewYork spoke with him.
What was it really like growing up in Killadelphia? It teaches you how to survive, how to hustle, how to be confident. … I don’t know what the survival rate is for people who are out there, but if they are able to make it, it seems like it definitely prepares you for a lot in the world. The sad part is, though, so many people don’t make it.
What’s your advice to youth growing up in their own Killadelphias? Reading changed my life. Reading opened up my mind and allowed me to understand new ideas... That’s what I wanted to do with “Buck” — write something that me at 16... would relate to and ... would inspire me.
What’s your response to people who negate urban lit because of its profanity and “street” language? Look at a Jack Kerouac. Some people used to say that’s not writing; that’s typing. They were trying to dismiss his art. But clearly Kerouac was one of the greatest American writers. “On the Road” was one of the greatest American novels written.
How important was Maya’s advice for you? For me it’s huge. … She’s been my mentor. ... So I asked her, I said, “I’m writing this memoir, what advice could you give me?”... She gave me so many gems… She loves it. ... Yesterday [August 15] , she told me she’s passing the torch to me.
MK Asante is at Greenlight Bookstore on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., 686 Fulton St., Fort Greene, 718-246-0200, FREE
He is at powerHouse Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m., 37 Main St., DUMBO, 718-666-3049, FREE