Rashod ol­li­son's 'soul ser­e­nade'

Mu­sic and cul­ture critic’s new mem­oir taps into pain, tri­umph of a black, gay son of the South

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Out au­thor brings his lit­er­ary de­but to At­lanta


Af­ter a move from Bal­ti­more to Vir­ginia Beach to ac­cept a po­si­tion as the mu­sic writer and cul­ture critic at the Vir­ginian-Pi­lot, Rashad Ol­li­son found him­self with the need to write about his child­hood jour­ney. Grow­ing up in ru­ral Arkansas amid soul mu­sic and dys­func­tion, Rashad took the route of in­tro­spec­tion and saw that many of the prob­lems that plagued his fam­ily were rooted in pain that had been passed down for gen­er­a­tions. The re­sult was a thought­ful, poignant book called “Soul Ser­e­nade: Rhythm, Blues, and Com­ing of Age Through Vinyl.”

The Ge­or­gia Voice: What in­spired you to re­visit your child­hood in or­der to write a book about it?

Rashod: Af­ter I moved to Vir­ginia, I was in a brief and painful re­la­tion­ship that stirred some aban­don­ment is­sues in me. I was in a very lonely and de­pressed place. I de­cided I needed to get my­self to­gether, so I started “Op­er­a­tion Rein­vent Rashod.” I hired a ther­a­pist to help me work through my de­pres­sion and aban­don­ment is­sues. I also hired a fit­ness

trainer to help me get in bet­ter shape. I was wear­ing a size 48” waist. Fi­nally, I wanted to chal­lenge my­self cre­atively as a writer. As a jour­nal­ist, most of the writ­ing I do is con­tex­tual where I re­port and ex­plain things. I wanted to show a reader in­stead of ex­plain­ing to a reader.

Ini­tially, I wanted to ap­pro­pri­ate parts of my child­hood into a novel. But it ended up be­ing a mem­oir writ­ten like a novel. I hoped that it would give the reader a vis­ceral feel for what it was like to grow up in cen­tral Arkansas dur­ing that time as a gay AfricanAmer­i­can male.

You wrote about how your par­ents both came from a place of dys­func­tion due to past trau­mas that im­pacted your child­hood.

My mom had come from a trau­ma­tized child­hood and some­times peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence trauma early in child­hood never get to a point where they open up them­selves emo­tion­ally to oth­ers. She was a re­li­able per­son and won­der­ful provider, but not very nur­tur­ing. My father, on the other hand, couldn’t be de­pended on for any­thing but he was very emo­tion­ally avail­able and af­fec­tion­ate. Get­ting hugs and kisses from my dad was very val­i­dat­ing. When he left, that left with him. I spent a lot of time af­ter he left look­ing for more of that type of val­i­da­tion. I fi­nally had to learn to val­i­date my­self.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up as a gay, black kid?

I think my fam­ily knew, al­though there was never a “com­ing out” mo­ment. I knew pretty early on what was go­ing on with me sex­u­ally. I worked in the li­brary at 15 and what I needed to know (like sex­ual health), I looked up. Other than the whis­pers of “He’s a fag,” I didn’t re­ally have the ha­rass­ment, re­jec­tion and other neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences that many other

On your cur­rent book tour, what has it been like to meet your read­ers?

It has been an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, af­firm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Some of the peo­ple who were in the book—church mem­bers, teach­ers—they came out to hear me read ex­cerpts. It’s been emo­tional.

Why do you think au­di­ences are con-

My story is a hu­man story of re­silience, of find­ing your way, defin­ing who you’re go­ing to be and chart­ing a course to be­come that de­spite the chaos that may be around you. I told this story through some rich and vivid cul­tural speci­fici­ties that are unique to my black ex­pe­ri­ence in cen­tral Arkansas be­tween 1983 to 1996. But at the heart of it is a story about a fam­ily try­ing to love each other in dif­fer-

nect­ing with your story?

ent ways. There are peo­ple who have gone through a lot of trauma that has long ago been nor­mal­ized and some­times, all some peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of do­ing to show love is to keep you fed and alive. It’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that. Th­ese are peo­ple try­ing to find a way out of no way. I think ev­ery­one can re­late to that.

Rashod Ol­li­son will be read­ing ex­cerpts from his book at A Capella Books.

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