Today I am interviewing kim d. hunter, author of the new short-story collection, The Official Report on Human Activity (Wayne State University Press, 2018). It’s his first work of fiction. hunter’s work prior to this was primarily poetry. He served as Poet-in-Residence in several Detroit public schools through the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. He co-directed the Woodward Line Poetry Series for 13 years. The series was awarded a Knight Arts Challenge Detroit in 2013.
His poems appear in “they say triangle – 6X6 #35” “Black Renaissance Noire” “What I Say, Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America” “Rainbow Darkness,” “Abandon Automobile,” and elsewhere. He has published two collections of poetry: “borne on slow knives (Past Tents, 2001) and “edge of the time zone” (white print inc., 2009). He received a Kresge Literary Arts Fellowship in 2012 for an earlier version of his published fiction.
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DJ: Hi Kim! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Kim D. Hunter: My literary life began with and has been mostly focused on poetry, , Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), Plath, cummings, Brooks. Those writers were my adolescent world and I identified with being a poet most of my life. I did write one short story back in the late 80s that I’m revising to this day. That editing process along with the first line of the title story of the collection —“When Ipso gave birth to what most agreed was an elephant…,” which seemed to come from nowhere— is what I think led me to write and then submit the collection to the folks at Kresge Arts Foundation. I was fortunate enough to win a Kresge Literary Arts Fellowship in 2012. That award and the process of attaining it added a whole other facet to my writing. Much of my work, poetry and fiction is concerned with social justice. I grew up African American working class and have worked in media all my life. I began as a television camera operator and moved into media relations for nonprofits and now for social justice groups and causes.
DJ: What is The Official Report on Human Activity about?
Kim: My usual reply to this question is an old joke: it’s about 220 pages and, because it’s short, it will appeal to young men because it doesn’t take much of a commitment. But seriously, I deflect the question with jokes because the plots are nutty and, while humor is woven throughout, it belies much of the actual reading experience. But, to answer your question, the broad themes are how technology in general and media in particular affect us based on gender, race and class. The only realistic story of the four deals with mistaken perceptions of blackness and whiteness and how violence can flow from those mistakes. The three speculative stories feature animals acting strangely which adds to their speculative fiction aspect. All of the stories involve music, jazz and/or opera, and/or various kinds of blues. There’s always an author lurking somewhere in every story as well. I am concerned with the reader’s experience so I am concerned with reflecting on the creative process which adds a postmodern feel to the stories.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us about each of the four stories?
Kim: Three of the four stories are set in a Detroit of the future. The title story follows the media frenzy that occurs when a factory worker and aspiring writer gives birth to a small elephant with an indecipherable message on its hide. In the second story, “The Whistling Dragon or Every Boy’s First Murder” a librarian who is a central character in the first story gets released from prison to take a job as the biographer of a CEO. To her dismay, he turns out to be a murder. In fact, his narrates his take on the story from death row. He’s literally killed his competitors and his father. That story is told in four narrative voices including one the CEO’s lover, a union rep, and chronicles his climb from an abusive childhood to factory worker to CEO where company scientists tinker with his insides. That tinkering leads him to kill. The scientists’ tinkering also raise some questions about what it means to be human as well as who is really telling the story and who really committed the murders. The third story follows a band, “The Nat and Tina Turner Review” at time when humans playing live music is barely legal. Virtual, hologram performances and android shows are all that are really allowed. Nat goes to prison after attacking folks he thinks are disrupting his shows. The last story, though it shares characters with the other three, is actually fairly realistic. A young, nerdy, black teen visiting his pool hustling cousin in Washington DC for the summer runs into half-white twins on the run from the law. That’s set during the US invasion of Viet Nam and the cousin is quietly freaking out about being drafted runs into violence at home.
DJ: What were some of the inspirations behind the stories The Official Report on Human Activity?
Kim: In some ways, given my background, my inspirations are, as they say, overdetermined. That is, what else would a nerdy, music obsessed, African American employed in media and a product of the late 60s early 70s write about except media/technology, music and social justice? If I look back, I see Poe, whose work I came to feel is a bit purple, overwritten and Clarke’s “2001”, just the opposite, clean and clear, as influences. Other factors include my aforementioned love/hate relationship with media, a fascination with gadgets that seems all but inherited from my father, experiences with racism, knowledge of institutional racism and my working class background. I love stories that cause readers to reflect on the fact that they are reading, that someone wrote the story but to do it in an intriguing entertaining way.
DJ: Being an author, what do you believe makes a good short-story How does it differ from wiring novel-length stories?
Kim: That’s a great question that I am wrestling with now. I have a story about a young woman that kills her boss and is sent to a prison for writers. It is currently a short story but probably needs to be a short novel. It’s too long for a story and not deep enough for a novel. I am not sure we know enough about the protagonist. Besides sheer length, the arc and depth of the characters for a novel have to be greater. The novel’s protagonist needs multiple challenges, surprises, revelations that reveal character and as a result, it seems all but impossible, not to probe the characters psychologically. You can do that with a short story, Ibsen and Petry do it extraordinarily well. But, with a novel, it seems a must, unavoidable which is also the case with serious plays that aren’t spectacles of special effects.
DJ: This may… this will be a difficult question to answer, but what are some of your favorite stories in The Official Report on Human Activity? I don’t mean what you believe is the best, but perhaps some stories has a particular setting, theme, message, or character that you stood out to you?
Kim: I’ve mentioned the themes of technology and social justice. Besides that, it’s probably a matter of favorite character more than favorite stories. I really like the Librarian who appears in both the title story, “The Official Report” and in the second story, “Whistling Dragon.” Like me, she has love/hate relationship with the media. Though she’s better at media work than being a librarian, it ends up causing problems for her. She has interesting thoughts about how job descriptions can be downright deceitful and talks about Marx, Freud and Einstein as people who had “jobs” she admires. She gets out of prison to take a job as the biographer of person who seems upstanding but is a murderer. Ipso, the factory worker who wants to be writer is obsessed with Miles Davis and I got a chance not just to explore some of the best music ever created but to use that music as lever to open the creative process particularly as it relates to the blues and black culture. Lastly, there’s the narration of the CEO whose insides have been changed by company scientist. He narrates from a human and nonhuman perspective which is all I will say to avoid spoilers. Speaking of human and nonhuman, before his murders are discovered, he opens a karaoke bar for ventriloquists. It was great fun to write about the ventriloquists’ karaoke becoming a “scene,” and the queen of the scene, a ventriloquist character, the Veiled Woman or VW.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Official Report on Human Activity?
Kim: Besides certain sections that were fun to write, there was the process of following sentence by sentence. By that I mean how one sentence, especially the first lines of the stories seemed to lead me like a trail of breadcrumbs with their own logic. I didn’t worry about how wild or meta the stories became. That’s why you edit. The story called “Antecedent Blues” that features the “Nat and Tina Turner Review” begins with problems caused by a strange bird whose “call” is a devastating ear worm for some, mostly wealthy folks. Describing the bird and its relationship with a girl who has trouble hearing was a lot of fun. Then, there were the things that surprised me. “The Official Report” is actually a play, a story within the story that involves global warming and Harriet Tubman, not in that order. But it was so much fun fitting those things together.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it this one?
Kim: All fiction is really speculative in that it takes you away from where you are so that you can see your world in a new light. I hope people will take a hard look at how utterly strange our concepts of jobs, justice, race and communications/media are. I know that’s a lot, so it’s all leavened with humor that’s just as odd as the plots. I want folks to think about what it means to write/read. Last, but not least, I hope people appreciate how precious children and music are even in the vortex of media/technology. I didn’t mentioned one of the key repeating characters is simply identified as “the Girl.” She makes a lot of things possible in the stories.
DJ: Now that The Official Report on Human Activity is released, what is next for you?
Kim: Besides promotion of the book — media work and figuring out what are the best sections to read at events— I have lots of concepts and half-finished scripts. I am utterly determined to finish a good screenplay and/or television script. The storytelling and character development for those forms are daunting to say the least. I have to hone my storytelling chops especially as they relate to characters’ inward journey and outward actions.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Wayne State University Press – author’s page – http://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/official-report-human-activity
Author’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kimhunterbooks/
Website www.kimhunterbooks.com coming soon
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Official Report on Human Activity is published by Wayne State University Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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The Official Report on Human Activity by kim d. hunter, which is neither official nor a report, is a collection of long stories that are linked by reoccurring characters and their personal struggles in societies rife with bigotry, in which media technology and capitalism have run amok. These stories approach the holy trinity of gender, race, and class at a slant. They are concerned with the process and role of writing intertwined with the roles of music and sound.
The four stories range from the utterly surreal-a factory worker seeking recognition for his writing gives birth to a small black elephant with a mysterious message on its hide-to the utterly real-a nerdy black teen’s summer away from home takes a turn when he encounters half-white twins on the run from the police. Prominently known as a Detroit poet, hunter creates illusions and magic while pulling back the curtain to reveal humanity-the good, bad, and absurd. Readers will find their minds expanded and their conversations flowing after finishing The Official Report on Human Activity.
The Official Report on Human Activity is sure to appeal to readers of literary fiction, particularly those interested in postmodernism and social justice.
About the Author:
kim d. hunter has published two collections of poetry: borne on slow knives and edge of the time zone. His poetry appears in Rainbow Darkness, What I Say, Black Renaissance Noire, 6X6 #35, and elsewhere. He received a 2012 Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts and he works in Detroit providing media support to social justice groups.