An interview with Karla Brundage from The Write Stuff series:
Karla Brundage is an Oakland poet, editor, essayist, activist with roots in the Bay Area, New York and Hawaii. A performer, teacher, mother and beach lover, Karla is also a board member of Before Columbus Foundation. A recipient of a Fulbright Teacher Exchange she spent a year teaching in Zimbabwe and three years in Côte d’Ivoire where she founded West Oakland to West Africa Poetry Exchange. Her book Swallowing Watermelons reflects on mixed race identity, single parenting, and living with epilepsy. In 2020, her poem Alabama Dirt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her upcoming book, Mulatta–Tragic No More will be released next month by Fleur du Mal press. You can also find Karla on Shuffle and Twitter. Author photo by Robert Fischer.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I try to avoid answering.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
My biggest struggle is time. I have a hard time saying no to projects and people. I love to be with friends and work and be creative. Curating the work of others is a passion of mine and I feel really happy when paths intersect or connections are made that create happiness.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
When it comes to your career path, follow your heart.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
My favorite ancestor is my grandpa, I called him Papa. His nickname was Apple. He called me Sugar. We made a lot of pies. I remember sitting is his comfy living room, listening to this song called “Oh, My Papa,” on this album called “Turn Back the Hands of Time.” We often would make pies, sweet potato, apple, or later mango and papaya and sweet potato. He had a saying that went, “Don’t spend what you don’t have and don’t buy what you can’t pay for.” Though he was born in Richmond, Virginia, and spent most of his life in the south as a big animal veterinarian, when I was born and after he retired, he moved to Hawaii. His name is William Henry Waddell IV. I think he is my favorite ancestor because he dedicated the last part of his life trying to make life okay for me. It sounds selfish, but all my memories of my grandpa are positive, even the difficult ones.
What’s wrong with society today?
0 Tolerance. I am not sure when we as a country embraced this idea. To stay away from politics, I will not name the president’s wife that I believe brought this concept back to popular culture, but this idea of 0 tolerance is intolerable.
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
Any beach with sand, and ocean with waves, bodies of water, wind on my face, places where there is movement (not created by me) so that I can be still.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
I would like to see an end to drilling for oil in the oceans as well as an environmental movement focusing on ocean health.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
Lately I wear my house shoes a lot. Sometimes I walk out to my car in them on my way to work, then I realize I am wearing them. They are not any brand name or anything but they are two things soft and hard. They are soft and fluffy on the inside and then the bottom is sturdy so I can take out the trash or do whatever I need to do while keeping my feet warm. Growing up in Hawaii, I barely wore shoes as a kid then being the daughter of a fashionista I wore all kinds of heels until I could not anymore. As a runner and a coach I word Asics for a long time. Now I just wear whatever is comfortable and as I write this, that is my house shoes.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I have always been passionate about three things: youth voice, education and art. My current job allows me to bring my passions together. I feel blessed in that way.
In my artist life, I am working towards independence. I have about three projects in the works. I am working on a memoir about a year I spent living in Zimbabwe. I have a collection of poetry that is looking for a home and two others in the works. Finally I am hoping to find a way to continue working on the poetic exchanges with West Oakland to West Africa. We have two anthologies coming out in 2022.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
The City of Oakland has too much trash. I am not sure why the mayor does not have regular trash pick-up in areas where it is clearly a high impact. While she can blame it on illegal dumping, the fact is, the trash is here in Oakland. I also advocate for more affordable housing and more stringent laws on the actions of developers. Recently I had an experience that allowed me to feel the impact of a lack of running water, privacy to bathe, access to a toilet and my capacity for empathy grew. We must stop evictions. What is happening in the Bay Area is unconscionable.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Dancing till there is sweat on the floor. Carloads of friends. Heated discussions. Any kind of music that creates feeling and movement.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
From the age of four until I was about eight, I used to see ghosts in my bedroom. There was always a tall one in the corner by the door. Eventually I just asked it to go away because it frightened me. Now I wish I had not. I kind of miss it.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?
Too many lessons. Most of them due to my own misconception or misinterpretations. Trying to be more open.
What are you unable to live without?
I want to talk about volcanoes. I can live without them, but I grew up around a live volcano and I feel that without this idea of life expanding and recreating, without experiencing the cycle of destruction and creation, I would be a different person.