Teaching for Change Interview with Derrick Weston Brown

Wisdom Teeth

By Don Allen
April 5, 2011

Teaching for Change staff member Derrick Weston Brown has just released his first book of poetry, Wisdom Teeth (published by the Busboys and Poets imprint of PM Press). Derrick started at Teaching for Change as a bookseller nearly six years ago and was integral to the launch of Teaching for Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore. At that time he became Busboys and Poets’ first Poet-in-Residence. Derrick’s hometown is Charlotte, N.C., but he currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro region, specifically Mount Ranier, MD. He teaches creative writing at Emerson Preparatory School in northwest and at Hart Middle School in southeast. 

Teaching for Change: How does your hometown Charlotte influence you? 

Derrick Weston Brown: Charlotte has and will always be home to me, although I haven’t lived there for close to ten years. I had a great childhood and I developed a love of books and writing through my family. Both of my grandmothers were elementary school teachers. Both of my aunts were librarians, and everyone in my family loved to read. As an only child, I had an active imagination and my family encouraged it as well as helped me focus my imagination toward the performing arts


TFC: What was your favorite book when you were a kid?  What is your favorite children’s book right now? 

DWB: That’s an easy one, The Story of Ferdinand. Favorite kids book right now; Those Shoes and Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop.

TFC: What are you reading right now?

DWB: John Murillo’s Up Jump the Boogie and an autobiography about a Liberian peace activist called And Still No Peace Came.

TFC: What is the book that you are most likely to tell people that they MUST read? 

DWB: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

TFC: Who are the biggest influences as a writer?  

DWB: As a writer: Sonia Sanchez, Paul Beatty, Sherman Alexie, Lucille Clifton, Shel Silverstein. As a person: Mom.

Derrick introducing Sonia Sanchez at TFC fundraiser

TFC: What book (or books) changed your life in some way? 

DWB: Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle and a little known book called The Stray by Jamie Wyeth. These books changed my life as a writer because I really saw from Beatty’s work that all the elements and literary devices of great creative writing could be used in poetry AND fiction. Jamie Wyeth’s The Stray was the first book to make me cry, because of the unexpected tragedy at the end of it. I was not ready and Wyeth didn’t foreshadow anything. Like life, death comes without warning. I was so mad at the end of the book. I was twelve or thirteen and I felt betrayed. I was so invested in the characters, that when the tragedy came, I was ill-prepared. That’s when I knew, that was good writing.

TFC: Can you share your favorite haiku (written by you)? 


Paul D’s Haiku to Sethe
I always loved trees
long slim limbs swaying brown boughs
Sethe be my Oak

(This is from “The Sweet Home Men Series – For Toni Morrison” in Wisdom Teeth – ed.)

TFC: Why is your book called Wisdom Teeth?

DWB: Wisdom Teeth is about growth and pain and inevitable readjustment. I’ve always had a hard time with change. This book reflects the journey and continuance of that struggle, discomfort and eventual understanding that change is the one constant in this world. 

TFC: How does D.C. influence your poetry?

DWB: D.C. is important because it is a great city for writers. Before I moved to D.C. I had an email conversation with E. Ethelbert Miller. He told me that D.C. was fertile ground for writers. D.C. also influenced my growth from a young man into a “grown” man. I learned how to hustle in this city. I got my heart broken in this city.  I found love, lost love, found love in this city. I also found a strong and nurturing writing community in this city. I learned what it is to really “craft” a poem in this city

TFC: How does Hip Hop influence your poetry?

DWB: I think I’ll quote Mos Def to answer this question:

My restlessness is my nemesis
It’s hard to really chill and sit still
Committed to page, I write rhymes
Sometimes won’t finish for days
Scrutinize my literature, from the large to the miniature
I mathematically add-minister
Subtract the wack
Selector, wheel it back, I’m feeling that
From the core to the perimeter black,
You know the motto
Stay fluid even in staccato

Derrick Weston Brown’s Biography

Information about Nine on the Ninth, the poetry series hosted by Derrick Weston Brown

Back to Derrick Weston Brown’s Author Page