Wallace Lane is a poet, writer, and author from Baltimore, Maryland. He received his MFA in creative writing and publishing arts from the University of Baltimore in May 2017. His poetry has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, The Avenue, Welter and is forthcoming in several literary journals. Jordan Year, his debut collection of poetry, was released in May 2017. Wallace also works as a teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools.
Q: You majored in criminal justice, then went for an MFA and now work as a teacher. Just from reading your bio, there seems to be a consistent social justice theme, but one that’s taken you in a few different directions. Could you share a little about your path?
Honestly about three years ago I would have cringed at that question, just based off the distance between a criminal justice degree and an MFA. But now it’s now one of the questions I’m most anxious to answer. As a first generation college student, I had no clue of what to major in at college. I knew it had to be something where I would profit financial gain but also something I would enjoy during the pursuit. And quite honestly, nothing at all stood out to me, not even criminal justice (I knew I would never proudly wear a law enforcement uniform, no offense to anyone). But the aspect of mentoring youth and juveniles stood out to me and that’s mainly why I chose to major in criminal justice my junior year of undergrad. From there I went to work in several juvenile center detention centers and schools. And I must say it’s the hardest work I ever done. I witnessed first-hand how kids were profited off of in a corrupt criminal justice system and how it was, in many ways, preparing them for a life designed for them to depend on some corrupt system of some sort. I was 23 years old at that time. I saw enough death and pain growing up. I knew I could do more to help the youth somehow so I started to create an exit plan. I STARTED TO WRITE POETRY. I always loved poetry. I start writing poems in middle school and I had a dozen composition notebooks of poems in high school. I even took creative writing classes while pursuing a criminal justice degree. Somehow my falling in love with poetry all over again led me to pursuing my MFA degree. The rest is history. It’s a lot of twist and turns in my journey but I love it. It inspires a lot of people and encourages the youth and even adults to pursue their passion and never be afraid to try new things. I’m grateful for that.
Q: When on your website you describe Jordan Year as about “what it means to live and survive in Baltimore City,” I remembered Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes about his own childhood in Baltimore in Between the World and Me. I don’t think Coates does any poetry, but has he influenced your writing in any way?
I’m rooting for black excellence. I’m rooting for anyone from Baltimore. Anyone who is attempting to bring light and hope to a city like ours. Especially artist and writers who love this city. We are the pillars of culture here. But as far as Between the World and Me, it was definitely a narrative I drew inspiration from when I began drafting my manuscript. I enjoyed how Coates presented a harsh reality to his son while intimately taking him and us (readers) on a journey through his life. That was my goal when writing Jordan Year–to tell two stories in one, my journey of growing up in Baltimore City but also the reality of people in my community who often get overlooked. I didn’t want to sugarcoat anything or leave anything out, you know? And that’s why I can appreciate books like Between the World and Me and so many others because of the transparency in the narrative.
Q: Who are some poets you admire?
I’m forever indebted to “my forefathers of poetry”, that is, the poets I first was first introduced to in my younger days. Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, etc. Then there’s the poets I was forced to read in high school and college either by assignment or lecture and I’m constantly revisiting their work now as an adult. Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Cornelius Eady, Sharon Olds, Margaret Attwood, Nikki Giovanni, Walt Whitman are amongst that bunch. I may be leaving some out. But as of now the poets I admire most as a black male poet are Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Major Jackson, Clint Smith, Alan King, Steven Leyva, and Hanif Abdurraqib, to name a few. Their poetry speaks to exactly where I am in my life and my writing career.
Q: Thank you as well for coming to our launch in June. Did any of the readings or readers strike you in particular?
Of course. The POETS. ALL OF THEM!
Q: And what are you working on now?
Right now I’m working toward my second collection of poetry. I can’t say that I’m working on my second collection, if you know what I mean, because that hasn’t necessarily been my focus, especially with becoming acclimated as a first-year teacher, but I have been writing since last June, so I have accumulated enough poems to compose a chapbook. But I’m not sure as of right now. A project will come out of it, maybe a short documentary or kids book. I’m not limiting my creativity at the moment. Creativity is a beautiful thing and process that I thrive on. I don’t rush or force anything. What’s more important to me now is to pursue my craft every single day in some way or form. Sometimes I’m writing poems in my phone. Also, I’ve delved back into a YA memoir I started writing back in grad school. So that’s something I’ve been working on too.