Interview with Author Mwalim – Ramona Portelli Blog

Interview with Author Mwalim

Author Mwalim *7) “DaPhunkee Professor” (Morgan James Peters) is a multi-award-winning storyteller/spoken word artist, playwright, oral historian, singer, songwriter, music producer, and filmmaker. Born in Bronx, NY., and raised in both New York and Mashpee, MA, he is a graduate of Music & Art High School (now known as LaGuardia), he is a trained violist, jazz pianist and composer. Performing at Carnegie Hall before the age of 14, and by 16, one of the youngest studio session players in EMI history; he is currently, the keyboardist and a singer for the multi- Grammy nominated soul-funk band The GroovaLottos. As an iconic part of the east coast underground art and music scenes for over 30 years, his stages have included theaters, schools, street corners, libraries, galleries, museums, festivals, powwows, jails, nightclubs, temples, community centres, and colleges throughout the country. His plays, solo performance pieces, and experimental films have been presented throughout the USA and Canada as well as the Caribbean and U.K.

Mwalim earned his BA in Music and MS in Film from Boston University, and his MFA in Writing from Goddard College. He received his formal training in theater arts and arts education from New African Company in Boston.

Mwalim is a two-time recipient of the Yen Fellowship, several New England Urban Music Awards for jazz, the Healey Grant, the Osborne Fellowship, and a three-time recipient of the Ira Aldridge Theatre Fellowship. He is a tenured Associate Professor of English & Communications and Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he teaches playwriting, fiction writing, oral traditions, spoken-word, Black aesthetics, Black American cinema, and digital filmmaking. Land of the Black Squirrels is his first novel.

Ramona: Tell me more about your latest book

Mwalim: LAND of the BLACK SQUIRRELS is the first book in a series called “Bronx Boheme”. It’s a story about an extended family of musicians and artists growing up in the Northeast Bronx during the 70s and 80s, and integrating into the underground arts scenes of the 1990s and 2000s. It’s an allegory about the musical culture of the Bronx that gave birth to Hip-Hop, and where jazz met Hip-Hop.

It started out as a short storytelling piece back in 1993 and expanded into a long-form storytelling that I performed at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in 2003. After performing it for a few years I decided to write it out as a novel. The story kept flowing and I realized I had written 2 ½ novels worth of material, so I extracted elements and made it book one.

Ramona: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

Mwalim: Figuring out how to tell a story that occurs over a 50-year period. I finally found that telling the story outside of chronological order allowed it to flow better, where the emotional elements become the connective tissue.

The other challenge was trying to write a book that was reflective of the Black literary tradition of jazz poetry. The current trends of Urban Lit have convinced most publishers that African American-based literary fiction forms are no longer appealing to audiences. My novel went into a second printing it’s first week out, so perhaps they were wrong.

Ramona: Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason/s for writing a book?

Mwalim: I love writing and creating. I think of myself more so as a musician who writes. My primary form is playwriting. I love writing dialogue and depicting conversations. My next medium would be storytelling which is a blend of poetry and short fiction. Both of those genres influenced the fact that this novel was written for oral interpretation.

Ramona: What is your normal procedure to get your books published?

Mwalim: As an academic, I get no professional credit for self-publication, so my normal procedure is to hunt for a publisher who appreciated what I wrote and the vision.

Ramona: What motivated you to become an author?

Mwalim: I have a lot of stories to tell and ideas to explore.

Ramona: How many books have you written so far? List and name them all here

Mwalim: My only other book is A MIXED MEDICINE BAG (Talking Drum Press, 2007)


– The Barber of Seville Street
– OUT! By The Roots
– OM! A Street Corner Griot’s Comedy
– Working Things Out
– Things I’ve Told White People: The Unitarian & Quaker Monologues
– Meanwhile, Elsewhere
– Top Eye Open
– Among Brothers (A Trilogy Seek & Yee Shall Find; Knock and Shall Open; Ask and it Shall Be Given)
– This House

Ramona: Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotion strongly?

Mwalim: It’s possible. Often times what you end up with sounds like a newspaper article, because emotions and the senses become the connective tissue between the who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Ramona: How hard or easy is it to establish and maintain a career in writing?

Mwalim: I think it was Paul McCartney who said that the first job for any artist is to create a job for themselves. Like most professions it is a hustle. It also depends on what your goals are. If you are looking for quick fame and fortune, this might not be for you. Careers are often built out of the activities around being a writer, like journalism, advertising, teaching, and the like.

Ramona: What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Mwalim: Live life, experience, observe, and absorb the world around you, and your interactions with it. Then, write, write, and write some more. Once you’ve written something, you’re no longer aspiring. Just unpublished.

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