Meet Langley’s Librarian Author


Nik Popli, News Editor

Q&A with Mr. Phillip Clark

Saxon Scope: How many books have you published and/or edited to date?

Phillip Clark: My first book, co-edited with David Groff, was Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS. It was published in 2010 by Alyson Books. My second book, A Kind of Endlessness: The Poems of Donald Britton will be published in 2016. I picked up editing that project some time after the poet Reginald Shepherd, its original editor and an acquaintance of mine, passed away in 2008. I also have essays and articles published in several anthologies.

SS: Do you have any new books coming out soon? If so, how excited are you for its release?

MC: I just learned that A Kind of Endlessness: The Selected Poems of Donald Britton, should be released on January 5th, 2016. I first read poems by Britton when I was in high school, and I’ve been working on the book slowly but steadily since 2010, so as much as a sense of excitement, I have a great sense of completion and relief.

SS: What influenced you to become an author?

MC: I am an author and editor in order to help tell the history of my community. I’ve been openly gay since early in high school; at that point, though, in the mid-1990s, there were almost no public depictions of gays or lesbians: nothing on TV, very little in the movies, and the Internet barely existed yet. That could lead to a feeling of isolation, but I was able to find books through the public library, and in the library of a gay youth group that I attended in DC, that helped to provide me with a sense of identity and a powerful sense of history. Persistent Voices, my first book, is a tribute to some of the poets who helped save my life when I was in high school. Now, I get to help tell my brothers’ and sisters’ stories, and I feel a great responsibility to do so.

SS: How does being a librarian reinforce your passion for reading and writing?

MC: It’s exciting to help someone find just the right information that they’re looking for or the right book to help them explore their interests and cultivate new ones. I get to spend time doing that every day, and it’s a privilege. I wish more students at Langley felt they had the time for pleasure reading, though. It’s upsetting that so many feel too stressed out to find the necessary time to read. Reading for pleasure is one of the easiest and best ways to grow as a person.

SS: What is your greatest passion besides reading and writing?

MC: Storytelling. Everything I truly enjoy and feel passion for—art, movies, books, history, poetry—is all some form of storytelling. Tell me a really great story and I’m hooked.

SS: When did you start writing professionally? When was your first book or piece published?

MC: When I was a junior in high school, a local poet, the late Hilary Tham, enjoyed a poem of mine that was part of a portfolio I submitted to a contest, and she asked to publish it in a literary journal she helped edit, The Potomac Review. That poem, “Prisons,” was my first professionally published piece, when I was 17. By the time I was 19, I was publishing regularly in the gay and lesbian press, beginning mostly with book reviews and short feature articles.

SS: Do you prefer writing poetry or books?

MC: While I used to write poetry, I mostly stopped doing so a number of years ago. Although I was publishing work, I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of what I was producing. Obviously, I’m still involved with the poetry community, but in a different capacity. My interests and efforts these days run more toward editing, research, and writing nonfiction.

SS: What does it mean to you being a published author with books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble?

MC: I despise giant corporations like Amazon and Barnes & Noble because of the way they’ve decimated what was once a thriving network of independent and used bookstores.

That’s not what you’re asking, though!

If you’re writing for fame or you’re writing for money, you’re probably going to quit pretty quickly. It has to be because you love and believe in what you’re doing and want to share it with others. Being an author is, for me, entirely a matter of creating connections with an audience, whether that’s one individual or a large group. I organized and participated in more than twenty public readings from Persistent Voices, in places ranging from cities to universities to bookstores, because the book was a great opportunity to go meet people and share the experience of literature and community history. It’s also a lot of fun to hold your very own book in your hands!