Tag Archives: Nebraska Writers Collective

BOTH

June 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Self-deprecating rappers impress at SXSW.

Omaha artists tend to violate stereotypes by being sincere, humble, and approachable. We don’t coast and we don’t mistake braggadocio for talent. But if local artists should be bragged about, try BOTH. BOTH are Make Believe Studios hip-hop recording artists Scky Rei aka Skylar Marcell Reed, and INFNTLP aka Nate Asad.

In the last two years, the rappers and OEAA Album and Artist of the Year winners have been shaking the clubs, MAHA, and SXSW. The duo from “North of Downtown,” is fond of lyrics like “Here I go…lost my soul a long, long, time ago…music is the only thing, left up in my soul,” featured on their song
Drug Abuse.

Gigs at the Nebraska Exposed showcase and a Front Gate Tickets private party worked out well.

“The experience was surreal. SXSW was a great time, playing in front of a new audience,” says MC/rapper/singer/songwriter/videographer Scky Rei. Scky Rei raps about life in the Big O and “provides a sonic connection to everyone in the same world at the same moment.”

“We’re just expressing social experiences through weird ways of explaining everyday life,” says Scky Rei. “We didn’t play in front of thousands like I thought, but watching people coming from the street to fill the upstairs of Cheers Shot Bar made me feel like we’re doing something right. Just being surrounded by creativity and people that love the same thing you do gave me a breath of fresh air.”

“Everyone was someone, somewhere, and that was cool to be a part of,“ says DJ/backup singer/producer/pianist/Dragon Ball Z enthusiast INFNTLP, who paints SXSW as “the Internet on wheels.”

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

Working on new music full time is BOTH’S goal for this year if manager John Schmidt hits his mark. Schmidt was a fan who met Scky Rei in a coffee shop last spring and offered to help out.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year,” says Schmidt, who also represents psych rockers JAGAJA. “SXSW was a great experience. Staying relevant is a grind even for superstars, so we will continue to put in the work. As long as these guys are in front of a crowd, they will succeed.”

Don’t just take BOTH’s word for it.

Michelle Troxclair, director of Nebraska Writer’s Collective, says she finds BOTH “a transformational group of musicians.”

“BOTH has been able to reflect all that is part of the cultural art form that is African American oral tradition,” says Troxclair, whose Verbal Gumbo can be said to do the same.

“The great thing about BOTH is that they are the anti-rap group. Nothing is stereotypical about them at all,” says Dominique Morgan, fellow OEA Award winning R&B singer and activist. “Scky Rei shoots all the videos, makes their posters. INFNTLP will go from deep club beats to playing classical piano in a set. It was only right they won Album and Artist of the Year.”

For now, BOTH will be pushing the EP  “BOTHSUCKS,” releasing videos, writing and increasing the love.

“Most of our fans came out to past shows bringing new people into our world. It’s awesome,” says INFNTLP.

“I don’t see fans, only extended family,” says Scky Rei. “Money is nice, but at the end, we do this for the love.”

Visit bothsucks.com to learn more.

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Never Get Involved With a Writer

October 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Never… Ever… Never, never, get involved with a writer.

Now, that is not to say that writers are not nice people.  Many of them are perfectly decent sorts, especially when they are sleeping.  It’s in their waking hours that they do most of their damage.

I know, you’re saying to yourself, “Otis, you’re a writer. Are you suggesting that we should avoid all contact with you?” I must reply, “Exactly.”

Now I know some very fine writers. Here in town Timothy Schaffert has kept the Omaha Lit Fest growing and penned some very fine novels including his latest, The Swan Gondola.  He seems okay.  Rebecca Rotert’s latest, Last Night at the Blue Angel is skillfully done and emotionally evocative indeed. She must certainly be safe to be around. Rainbow Rowell, former World Herald columnist, has turned out a few very successful books including Landline that just went into paperback. With a name like “Rainbow” how could she be any sort of a risk?  And Sean Doolittle keeps turning out gems like my favorite, Rain Dogs – all while also pitching for the Oakland Athletics. Go ahead, look it up.

Poets are a sub-set of “writer,” that are especially hazardous to your mental health. Matt Mason, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, and his band of misfits at the Nebraska Writers Collective, including Michele Troxclair, who puts on the most amazing spoken word events around town, are supremely talented and not to be trifled with if you want to lead a settled, comfortable life. Britny Cordera Doane can make myth and madness sing, as she does in her collection, Wingmakers. She also writes poems on demand in the Old Market. Yeah, a busker with a typewriter.

Perfectly nice people, all of them.

Don’t be fooled.

Writers will steal from you. If you say something clever, like squirrels we will stuff it away into our verbal cheeks and use it in a chapter years later. You will not get any credit.

We will tell all of your secrets; family tales left best untold, quirks in your love life, or reveal your most reprehensible personal hygiene secrets by assigning them to a particularly disturbing villain in one of our stories.

We will lie. Remember that time you and Betty took the underage me to the movies and sat in the back row? We will remember it differently. Our graphic details will shock you and destroy your reputation. Our memoirs will completely shake your sense of reality, and perversely, after you read and re-read them, even you will begin to believe our version.

We will drive you crazy. “Do you like my book?”… or…“Do you get what my poem means?”… or…“I’m the greatest talent ever!” … or… “I’m the worst writer ever.” We will be euphoric and then suicidal all within a half-hour. Our insecurities will baffle and exhaust you.

And worst of all, writers are like the Naked Guy in Friends, sometimes you see things about us you can’t un-see.

If you hang around with us, be prepared to stand on the edge. Be ready for us to risk falling. Be careful we don’t take you with us.

I know all of this because I have a novel coming out this month. It’s the best book ever. Or, it’s the worst waste of paper since God invented gerbils. You should read it. You might learn something about yourself. Or, you shouldn’t. We’d both be safer then.

It’s just true.

Never…Ever…Never, never, get involved with a writer.

Otis Headshot

Out of the Shadows

August 21, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August Omaha Magazine.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Michelle Troxclair commands a full life.

She’s a poet, spoken word artist, and founding member of the storytelling troupe The Wordsmiths. By day, she works as deputy director of the Nebraska Writers Collective, a nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing and performance poetry throughout the Midwest. With fellow poet Felicia Webster, she runs the Verbal Gumbo open mic at House of Loom every third Thursday of the month. She will graduate this July with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha—her second postgraduate degree. She’s a mother of three, an advocate for individuals living with autism, and an awe-inspiring woman who makes at least one Omaha Magazine contributor feel like an indolent narcissist by comparison.

As if all that weren’t enough, Troxclair is currently engaged in a residency with The Wordsmiths at Bemis Center’s Carver Bank. The group is working on a spoken art showcase addressing domestic violence (Love Didn’t Do That To You) and a new project dealing with corporal punishment and violence within the African-American community (From the Whip to the Switch to the Gun).

“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of stuff right now,” she quips.

For a good introduction to Troxclair’s poetry, check out her YouTube videos, particularly “The Trigger,” an urgent work addressed to an unnamed police officer that has unjustifiably killed a black woman. The performance starts with a single shadowy figure clad in a black hoodie staring at the floor of a stark white room whose brick walls are cracked and peeling—a subtle visual symbol of the entrapment many black Americans feel subjected to by a predominantly white bureaucratic power structure. The poem surges on the waves of Troxclair’s words as her cadence quickens, slows, and syncopates around gut-punch metaphors and unflinching appeals to civility. At the piece’s climax, the shadow-figure, Troxclair herself, removes her hood and speaks directly to the camera:

You don’t know me. I am a 46-year-old mother of three. I’m a homeowner, taxpayer, and I got a master’s degree. I don’t want you to love me, like me, or even respect me. I just need you to let me be. So please take your finger off the trigger. 

It’s an uncompromising performance that stays with you, a piece that wouldn’t cut so soul-deep if rendered only in print.

Besides developing her own powerful art, Troxclair takes pride in cultivating Omaha’s young poetic talent through Nebraska Writers Collective’s Louder Than a Bomb initiative: an extensive poetry-writing and performance workshop conducted in area schools and capped by a friendly tournament. The program strives to reach students who might not be served by such activities as sports, music, or visual arts.

“[Louder Than a Bomb] gives me, at age 46, hope that the next generation is thinking and they’re active and speaking truth to power…and using words to do it. It’s absolutely amazing what they have to say.”

Some of these students will go on to become the next powerhouses in Omaha’s poetry scene. In fact, Troxclair says, The Wordsmiths are bringing in younger members “just for some new energy and innovative stuff.

“I’m the elder here,” she adds, laughing, “and eventually, I will be leaving.”

But not before leaving a legacy that will cast the longest of shadows.

MichelleTroxclair

The Masons

August 3, 2015 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

This article appears in August 2015 Her Family.

It seems like the stereotypically idyllic life of a poet: a gravel path leading to a house in the woods, one that calls to mind Walden Pond and literary greats such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Poet Matt Mason and his wife, poet Sarah McKinstry-Brown, share that home with daughters Sophia Mason, 11, Lucia Mason, 7, and rescue dog Max. Their lives are as busy and hectic as those of any other working parents—even if they do revolve around words and the constant effort to construct them into something profound and beautiful.

“Being two poets seems like this really romantic existence,” explains McKinstry-Brown, “but it’s a lot of hard work and love, sweat, tears, and making time for the kids. Sometimes I wish people would have more of an understanding of how hard it is.”

The couple’s professional achievements speak to exactly how hard, especially in terms of how hard each poet works. Mason, 46, is executive director of the Nebraska Writers Collective. He won a Pushcart Prize and served as a cultural envoy for the U.S. State Department to Botswana, Nepal, and Belarus. McKinstry-Brown, 38, leads literary workshops and garnered the Academy of American Poets Prize as well as a Blue Light Book Award for her full-length collection of poetry, Cradling Monsoons. Each has received Nebraska Books Awards, and they are influential members of Omaha’s flourishing poetry slam scene, a scene that Mason was instrumental in creating.

The poets met in 2002, when McKinstry-Brown appeared at a poetry slam in Omaha. “I announced on stage that it was my birthday, and Matt ordered me a piece of cheesecake,” the mother of two remembers. “It was carrot cake,” Mason interjects. “No, it was cheesecake,” responds McKinstry-Brown. “Carrot cake,” insists Mason.

While poetry drew Mason and McKinstry-Brown together, Sophia and Lucia, who both attend St. Philip Neri Catholic School, remain nonplussed about what their father and mother do for a living. When asked what they think about their parents’ jobs, they shrug their shoulders.

“It’s funny,” remarks McKinstry-Brown. “It makes you realize how much your idea of normal is and how it’s shaped. Sophia’s asked a few times if everyone has a photograph on the back of a book. They’ve grown up going to a lot of readings. It’s their normal, and they’re very blasé about it.”

Indeed, rather than talk about their parents, the sisters are focused on Max’s affectionate antics and the next door neighbor’s puppy, which is staring plaintively into the living room window hoping to gain entry. “Don’t let the puppy in—we’ll never get rid of him!” exclaims McKinstry-Brown. The girls exchange mischievous glances as if trying to figure out how to get around this order without getting into trouble.

Each girl has a personality that mirrors one parent. Sophia, who sports a pixie cut and wears a t-shirt and shorts, is serious and introspective like her father. A Minecraft enthusiast, she loves the different worlds she can build. “There are so many things in it,” Sophia explains. “You can build absolutely anything. You can build a castle. I’ve gone really far.”

Lucia, despite being laid low with a cough, is outgoing like her mother and sprawls comfortably across the floor in a white sparkly dress. She loves to cook and is competitive with her sister in developing recipes. “Sophia likes gross stuff,” she observes with an impish grin before rattling off some of the ingredients for one of her sandwiches. “It had bread, yogurt, and chocolate sauce,” she recounts.

Even so, what Mason and McKinstry-Brown do for a living has influenced their daughters. At a young age, the sisters set up poetry slams, performing to audiences of stuffed animals seated around the living room couch. Sophia is interested in writing a children’s book with her mother titled Max at the Window, which would imagine the family pet’s fanciful daydreams while the the girls are at school. “I was thinking that for ‘about the author’ we should put something about Max and put glasses on him for his photo,” she suggests.

While the girls may not always be aware of the challenges facing full-time poets, Mason is keenly so, indicating they’ve just returned from Disneyland. “It was our first real family vacation,” he says. “You look at how everyone lives very different lives from us, and there is a certain attraction to that.”

“Like everyone else, it’s figuring out what’s sustainable,” McKinstry-Brown adds. “It’s more challenging because of the path we’ve chosen. The girls have given us so much of our art and how we see the world. They have given us so much insight. I’m really, really proud of us.”

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