Mitchell Jackson teaches writing at New York University. He received an M.A in Writing from Portland State University and an M.F.A from the school where he currently teaches. He is the recipient of awards and fellowships. But, it wasn’t always this way. In high school his focus was chasing girls and playing basketball. He toggled between his parent’s homes eventually settling with his grandmother. He was wild! It was a difficult time in his life. But, he always had a way with words. This way with words earned him a scholarship to Portland State University. He was arrested while attending school for selling drugs. According to Mitchell, “I was a pensive young man on steroids for those months I was incarcerated.” Fast forward, Mitchell is an accomplished writer with two books to his credit. He travels the country promoting his latest release, The Residue Years. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us and here is what he had to say,
Hello Mitchell, How are you?
I’m doing pretty swell.
Your writing career has taken off! I’ll come back to that in a minute, I would like to start by asking, Why did you leave Portland?
I left Portland to pursue a writing career. Well, first to pursue a writing apprenticeship, more specifically to attend NYU’s graduate writing program and immerse myself in the New York writing life.
Do you think you’ll ever move back to Portland?
I’d love to own a home in Portland and live their part time. I don’t know if I would want to live there year round anytime in the near future.
Getting back to your career, you’re now the author of two books, Oversoul and The Residue Years, how does this feel? Are you settled in your success?
To tell the truth, I don’t feel successful. I don’t see it. What I see are goals I’d like to accomplish. It’s really hard for me to look backwards and get a sense of satisfaction when there is so much ahead of me. All that said, I’m thankful that my work has found readers. To me every single reader is a gift.
Do you think you could have achieved the same level of success in Portland, why or why not?
I’m of the mind that you have to be in it, to succeed. Like if you’re in Nebraska and you want to be an actor, you have to go to Hollywood. Portland does have a rich writing community and a prosperous indie publishing scene. I think New York motivates like no other city. You get to see so many people not just pursing their dreams but also achieving their dreams. Then you add in the fact that New York could be the cultural epicenter of the country and it becomes exactly the kind of stimuli that an artist like me needs. I think I would have eventually published a book, but career-wise, for a writer, there is no place like New York. Even as far as my writing, I wouldn’t have had the same mentors exposing me to the same work teaching me the same things about my craft.
The Residue Years exposes a side of Portland many people deny or don’t know exist. Many people don’t think Portland is as grimy as NY or Cali. Having experienced selling drugs, going to jail, etc., compare Portland’s griminess (is that a word? :-)) to NY’s, is it the same or are there factors/elements that exist in one area and not the other?
Portland does have a drug and gang and hustling sub culture just like everywhere else. I think the thing about Portland and other cities that don’t have the reputation is just that fact—nobody knows us. Because of that, I think the tough guys feel compelled to show people just how tough they are. Does Northeast Portland compare to Brownsville New York or the South Side of Chicago? Well, there are far more people down on their luck in places like New York and Chicago and LA. Here’s a formula: The more poverty and hopelessness the more ubiquitous the crime and degradation. Plus, the competition also makes people more creative in their hustles/crimes. The crimes in big cities seem much more audacious. I travel to Atlanta every other month and I see people busting out the windows in the mall and robbing jewelry stores! The other difference is in a place like Portland, if someone does something to someone, there is a likely chance that they know each other directly or by second or third person. I think something could happen to you in a big city and the perpetrator is a complete stranger.
Recently, you debuted The Residue Year’s at Powell’s to a considerably large crowd. The reviews are encouraging. I must ask, one criticism I read suggests you overdeveloped the two main characters to the point of sacrificing the plot. Do you care what critics say? What role do critic’s and reviews play in your writing process?
If I solicit a critique from another writer or editor then I receive it as charity. I’m most definitely not one of those writers who think they are above it. Many times, it’s how you get better, and I’m constantly striving to become a stronger writer. If a person reviews my work for a publication and has a criticism of it, I can accept it. If everyone loves my work, that means I did something wrong. It probably means that I was too safe. I pride myself on taking creative risks, so I have to be willing to accept the results.
What’s the one thing Portland has that NY cannot replace?
Portland made me. Like Jay Z says, “I was who I was ‘fore I got here.” Though I’ve had some amazing experiences in New York and elsewhere and met some interesting people, my perspective on the world was built in Portland. The way I speak comes from Portland. Most of what and who I love was/is in Portland. New York can never come close to that. There is no place like home.
Are you single?
No, I’m in a relationship.
Interested in purchasing Mitchell’s books? Please do so here:
Thank you. Thank you.