Interview deep cut: Saul Williams on lifelong learning and the concept of “enough”

Saul Williams Q&A

Prairie Lights — Sat., Apr. 9 at 4 p.m.

Saul Williams with Psalm One, Akwi Nji & Lovar Davis Kidd

The Mill — Sat., Apr. 9 at 8:30 p.m.

In this deep cut from Heather ‘Byrd’ Roberts’ interview with Saul Williams, the first part of which appears in issue 196, the two discuss dreams, a passion for learning and whether enough is ever enough.

Saul Williams plays Mission Creek 2016
Rapper, poet and actor Saul Williams will appear twice today in Iowa City as part of the Mission Creek festival.
Little Village: When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an actor. My dreams were always in relationship to acting. At that point I really knew and loved the theatre, so I was dreaming of going to New York and Broadway shows and all that so that was my big dream. Of course I dreamt of doing films as well but I was really into the idea of doing theatre.

Ok, so what you are doing now isn’t very far from what you wanted to be when you grew up?

No, it’s not very far but there was a huge surprise in the way or by the mere fact that poetry showed up. I mean I didn’t grow up thinking about poetry per se other than I was defending hip hop. You know against people who are like, “It’s not even music,” and I be like, “It’s poetry.” Aside from that I never dreamt of being considered or even thinking of myself as a poet.

You consider yourself a life-long learner. What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned so far?

It’s hard to point to one or two things cause there are so many things and so many ways of learning. The first thing that pops in my head are my kids, I think of my daughter in particular, who was living in Paris with me, and we moved there when she was thirteen. In the States, I was surrounded by these helicopter parents who were really sheltering of there kids, not wanting them to be exposed to certain things and all this stuff. For me, growing up in New York in the eighties — like the sense of being able to go wherever the fuck you want at a young age, walking to school by yourself, and all this stuff always felt like it was overprotective. Then I arrived in Paris and I am in a culture, suddenly, where that’s definitely the case there where they’re like, “What are you talking about? Let your kid go. Your kid should’ve been going to school by themselves for five years by now.” There is a whole different type of independence and interdependence that exist in families there. You find the kids to be mature and accepting in ways and the parents be more free and being less hypocritical.

I know I found it empowering to let go of it when I was there in terms of parenting method … and going, okay, this is actually a more global parenting method that’s less helicoptery, it’s full of love, but there is some leniency there that I don’t necessary see blossoming out of where we are right now in American culture.

I really appreciate listening to your interviews and learning that a lot of your views are aligned with mine because knowing that I am not the only one is a really really good feeling.

That was the whole purpose of what I started to do early on, was the realization that it would be impossible for me the only one who had these ideas and vice versa. I wanted my music and poetry to serve as a confirmation for any and everyone who heard it when they encountered it. That’s very much the goal of much of much my work is to reach into those corners. Where people may be able to tell you you’re not alone.

In reference to everything that you do, knowing that it’s a response to what is going on in the world and politics and things of that nature, do you feel like what you are doing will ever be enough?

Enough. (laughing) Enough for what? Enough to create the social change that I imagine or enough to make everyone in humanity fall in love with life and nonviolent expression and love? Will it ever be enough? Well, I mean, we have to remember that it’s true that my work is geared towards humanity, but it’s not only that. My work is also geared towards my own growth process. In many and most cases, I am challenging myself beyond whatever obstacles or blind spots I may have or entertain. I am working for a richer and fuller self and in that sense I can’t say that I’m particularly hard on myself. So in that sense I would say yes, because all I’m doing is making a singular contribution and if everyone else plays their part, then we should have enough. I’m not trying to do more than what is … humanly possible or to achieve more than what is humanly possible, I am working at the best of my abilities and … often times asking or begging to have more work to do … because the creative world I felt I was built for wasn’t necessarily built for me. I’ve had to fight for you to be able to hear me. I’ve had to fight and deal with all sorts of people and instances where I have to be clever enough to say, “You should share this, you should put this out, you should pay for this, this should happen, people deserve this, people will like this.” It’s not so simple as what I’m saying, as if it’s not filled with moments of self-doubt and all these things. All those things are there. But anytime an encounter or connection, anytime that these ideas are able to travel, I think that something is achieved, because that also means things are reaching me in a sense and I know I have a lot more growing to do.


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So an answer to your question, “Is it enough?” Will it ever be enough? To be most honest, I would never think of that on my own. Is it enough? But on a regular daily basis I do think of things like this. For example, I really think that Bernie Sanders is a dope and sincere candidate and at times I am like, “Am I saying enough from the platform that I have to reach anybody that is within my circumference? Am I saying enough?” Because I am prepared for the worst thing to happen. I’m prepared for that, you know. I actually prepared for the worst things to happen. I feel like I’ve experienced a great deal of that already in my life. It doesn’t frighten me, it would just make me throw my hands up and continue doing what I do. I was talking to someone yesterday, and they were like, “Well I guess all we can do is hope.” I was like, “Nah, hope is not enough. Hope is not enough. We got work to do.” Like I’m embarrassed actually when I find out that if Clinton gets elected it’s going to be because of votes from people of color. I become embarrassed by those facts when I consider the possibility of that and knowing the actual facts surrounding that legacy. I start to question how people can’t see through things and whether or identity politics are working against us. You know.

So it is true that on a small-scale, everyday basis I just think in terms of, “Am I doing enough today. Am I doing enough? Am I saying enough?” Because I can get really selfish with it in a sense of just, I’m like, “I’m not fucking with the internet.” I go through times where I’m like, “I should try be more present,” just to be able to entertain whatever questions about this fucking shit because actually this means something to me … the future of people I know. I care enough. ’Cause it’s easy to be like, “Well, I got mine. Whatever, I’m going to Haiti.” It’s easy to fall into that too. So sometimes I do question whether I’m doing enough on a given day but in terms of am I doing enough full out … eh … ah … eh … I don’t know but I ain’t going to sweat it. Like I said, I don’t even think in those terms.

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