Jeff Glor talks to Adam Mansbach about, "Rage is Back."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Adam Mansbach: I wanted to write a book that was fun and exciting, a modern adventure story with caper elements, and the world of graffiti seemed like a fresh place to set it - it's a world I know well, and an environment I thought would allow me to imbue the story with detail and depth, politics and soul. I 've been fascinated by graffiti for a long time. As a kid, during the time I was coming up in hip hop, you were expected to be conversant with all the art forms -- the sonic, the kinetic, and the visual -- and to be proficient in at least a couple in order to fully "be" hip hop. I was an MC and a DJ, but I also wrote graffiti. I wasn't great, but the thrill of it was captivating, and I quickly discovered that graffiti writers were the mad geniuses and eccentrics of hip hop, the guys whose relationship to their craft was the most fraught and intense, the guys who labored in the dark, literally, whose lives were a discourse between fame and anonymity, who used "beautify" and "destroy" almost interchangeably when they talked about their work. And when I first got into hip hop around 1987, graffiti was already being forced off the New York subway trains, which had been its canvas since the beginning. So there was this sense of a death throe, and of guys outliving the form they'd created, which was weird and tragic, even though graffiti had already gone worldwide by then. And graffiti is a really interesting window on the history of New York. The "War on Graffiti," first declared by Mayor John Lindsay in '72, has really been a war on young people, especially young people of color. It's about public space, and who has the right to it. It presaged and ushered in zero tolerance policy, prejudicial gang databases, quality of life offenses, epic incarceration -- the whole way a generation has experienced law enforcement and personal freedom, basically.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
AM: How much fun I was having. Writing in Dondi's voice was really liberating; he's funny, he's digressive, he's stoned and whip-smart, his field of reference is broad-ranging, and he's self-aware - transparent with the reader about the fact that he's writing a book, and doesn't really know what he's doing. I'd shied away from writing an entire novel in first person in the past, because I thought I'd paint myself into a corner by being locked into one perspective, dependent on the character being in every scene, etc. But Dondi offered me all the advantages of immediacy and character without the drawbacks. If he doesn't feel like writing a scene, he skips it. If he's not present, he'll hand the story off to someone who is. He doesn't mind breaking the rules, and that freed me to do so too.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
AM: I've known I wanted to be a writer of some kind - a poet, a rapper, a journalist, a novelist - since I was about five, but every writer has an imaginary fallback career, a thing we imagine doing when this is no longer sustainable. Which is a real fear for most of us, because there's not a lot of stability to be had. I'd be a litigator. A terrifying, dead-eyed, soulless litigator.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
AM: Right before my tour started, I got hit with the flu, so i got to stay in bed and read - next year, if I don't get the flu, I might have to fake it. I read Victor LaValle's books "Big Machine" and "The Devil in Silver," Raquel Cepeda's forthcoming memoir "Bird of Paradise," Eddie Huang's forthcoming memoir "Fresh off the Boat," H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman's "Articulate While Black," and Jeffery Eugenides' "Middlesex." And now I won't have time to read anything longer than a New Yorker article for the next three months.
JG: What's next for you?
AM: I've got a supernatural thriller - my first "genre" novel - coming out in September, with HarperCollins. It's called "The Dead Run;" I just finished up my edits, and I'm excited about it. And I was just hired to adapt my favorite children's book, "The Pushcart War," for the screen. I enjoy working in different genres; sometimes having a clear set of parameters can push you in interesting directions.
VIDEO EXCERPT:Adam Mansbach talks about how the public perception and experience of graffiti has changed over the last 30 years:
For more on "Rage is Back," visit Adam Mansbach's website.