Jack Young’s writing puts large concepts and ideas, such as mental health, Christianity, and death, under microscopes, then amplifies that which refuses to be said or otherwise found at first glance. Through imagery, personification, and narrative, his writing seeks to fill in the gaps that exist when contending with existential crises and triumphs, both of which he’s experienced as a gay person who grew up in the South of the United States.
André Ramos-Woodard in conversation with Jack Young —
Nov. 2021 — The opportunity to dive into Jack’s mind for this interview was nothing less than an honor. He’s an incredibly thoughtful human being whose generosity and creativity truly know no bounds! We’re blessed (by whatever the fuck is out there) that we have a chance to share Jack’s essence with you through this conversation. We hope you enjoy reading. <3
Spit, Jack Young
ARW: Yo, Jack! Congratulations on winning the 2nd Place prize for our first call, the space in between! And of course, I hope you’ve been doing well! Actually, let’s just start there. How you been, boo? This past year has been a wild one.
JY: Well, first, I want to thank you both, Jennifer and André, for this wonderful opportunity to share my work. I don’t often feel compelled to share much of what I write, but this call for entry moved me to do so, and it’s been wonderful having y’all’s support.
It’s definitely been a wild year, to say the least, but while I write I breathe. And when I can’t catch my breath, I try to crawl outside my mind and ground myself in something else, something tangible, whether it’s having an espresso shot, calling my mom, or listening to music I find calming.
ARW: Yo, thank you! We’re so happy to share your work with our audience and honored that our first call spoke to you. It’s amazing that we get the chance to amplify work like yours!
I love that your practice is something that works in tandem with you. Finding ways to ground yourself seems to be more and more important as we get older; learning and experiencing new things can be so draining. We gotta take care of ourselves, so I’m glad to know you’re actively implementing ways to do that! It’s so inspiring.
Aight, now how about we first get an introduction to you, and this goes far beyond just your artwork. Do you mind telling us about yourself?
JY: I find I’m pretty self-deprecating when people ask about me and who I am, which I’m sure has to do with me being quite shy and awkward unless I know the person I’m talking to. I guess I’d start by saying I’m empathetic to my core. I often understand why people feel the things they do, and I’m super self-aware of why I experience particular emotions.
I was bullied as a teenager and was lucky to find a therapist that helped me understand myself from the inside and outside, which has been great as a young adult, when so many experiences, relationships, and situations can be intense and ambiguous. I know I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without having been in therapy at fifteen.
On a less serious note, I used to figure skate competitively as a child. One of my routines was to Lenny Kravitz’s song, American Woman. I also played competitive tennis for about five years after I stopped skating. Serena Williams was and is my favorite player of all time, and she’s who I tried shaping my game after. I saw her play in 2008 and 2013 in Charleston, South Carolina, and those are some of my favorite memories.
I’m also heavily invested in women in rap music. Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks inspired me to get into making music over ten years ago. While I know I’m certainly not on many people’s radar as a rapper, I know I couldn’t have ever released my own music without their talents, skills, and artistry.
And more recently, I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in August of 2020 with a B.F.A. in writing and minor in creative writing.
ARW: Thank you for being open with us about your past as well. FUCK those bullies. I hate that you had to deal with shitty people like that, but glad that you found a therapist that could help you work through that time in your life. From personal experience, I know that mental health and emotional well-being is one of most difficult things to navigate, especially without someone or something to help guide you through it.
But… holy shit, you really are a bad bitch, Jack, and I mean it! I mean, if you can’t tell, we’re not a very athletic duo (lmaoooo), but even if we were, figure skating and tennis are two sports that require too much precision and skill for us to tackle. Also, we weren’t even aware that you made music!! Shout outs to you and your vast abilities, including earning your degree! You’re like the RPG character that everyone needs on their team.
It seems like you enjoy so many different ways of making stuff and expressing your personhood! What got you hooked on writing?
JY: I journaled in middle school before the bullying I experienced reached its peak, but I soon abandoned it. I don’t remember why I felt inclined to journal in the first place, but once I picked up writing again, around the same time I started therapy, poetry fell out of me. I knew nothing about writing poems and thought all of my writing had to rhyme. I wrote so many terrible poems as a teenager that would make me cringe if I saw them today, but that’s part of my story. Looking back, I needed to keep my pain and trauma somewhere else besides in my mind and body; writing poems helped me put my rage and sadness in a place that was ultimately safe.
As for songwriting, I’ve always loved music and rhyming made more sense in that space, especially in rap music, and that eventually led me to write my own lyrics and study other rappers and their flows.
ARW: Ah, I see! I’m really glad that you ended up being able to use poetry to help get you through some of the negative aspects of reality you were facing. I really think getting your feelings and thoughts out through making art is an experience unlike any other. Something about creating a thing so authentically is so unique… but it also can be so decipherable. It’s kind of like it’s own language, ya know?
On the note of making art, all of the poems you submitted were incredible, truly. After reading your first entry, Jesus & Pontius Pilate at the Laundromat, Jen and I were hooked—it was like we were standing with you, seeing and feeling everything you’d written. Where are you hoping to take your reader? Or, is that even in mind when you write?
JY: I feel as a poet, it’s my job to give readers a map, then let them take their own journey or trajectory to wherever they want or need to go. With Jesus & Pontius Pilate at the Laundromat, there are many places the reader could go, but I ultimately think the reader will read the poem as though Jesus is speaking to Pontius or vice versa. The beauty, or horror, in that poem is that one can read it either way or take it completely different. Good writing is entertaining. Great writing makes you think and takes you places. I hope to always be a good writer, though I aspire to make people think, and, if I may be so bold, I think both poems included in this exhibition do that.
Jesus & Pontius Pilate at the Laundromat, Jack Young
ARW: For lack of a less blatant way of putting it; thank you for such powerful insight. I didn’t know who Pontius was before reading your poem, actually. I was interpreting the poem from such a one-sided way until I understood just how specific each character’s role played in each other’s lives, and life in general as far as Christianity goes. Sheeeeeeeesh, poetry is such an insanely elaborate medium to me! Your utilization of the craft—your way with words, if you will— is intoxicating.
So, seeing that in your own practice ties heavily into your personal experience, what does art in general do for YOU? Take that question however you will. <3
JY: Art takes me inward and outward, angers and excites me. Art challenges my notions of society and my being. It grounds and displaces me. It includes and excludes me. It can be cruel and self-serving, when it can’t be kind and empathetic.
ARW: Ahh, I get that. While there are so many things in the arts that I find so incredibly rejuvenating, there are plenty that are just so fucking daunting. As makers ourselves, some of the more negative aspects (the competition, the comparing your work to other people, the artist blocks, the expectation to perform, the shit) can be really stagnating. How do you deal with the cruel, angering aspects of art?
JY: I don’t know that I even subject myself to those aspects of the art world anymore. By that I mean, within the last year, I decided the art world wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of anymore. I dropped out of my art history master’s program after one semester last year, because it pretty much taught me that if I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my mental health and wellbeing for art that my passion and love for it was useless.
It also taught me that if you have no stakes in the art field or anything you can offer in terms of connections or publishable work or research, then there’s no incentive for people to talk to you or learn about what you’re passionate about. The music industry is the same way: if you have nothing tangible or special to give somebody, they don’t fuck with you.
And that’s why I don’t share my writing often, because I don’t care about competing with other people in the way the art and publishing worlds would want me to if I was a part of all of that.
ARW: Damn, I’m glad you realized that the art world and all of its hooblah wasn’t worth it for yourself and got out. And at the same time, kudos to you for going through and dealing with art school. There are some really shitty parts that come with trying to be whatever is defined as “successful” through the art world and art academia lens. It can be so incredibly sinister and absolutely exhausting. Whoever denies it is lying, tbh. On the bright side, I think that recognizing the shitty parts helps us find out the good parts. Like, it’s paving ways for us to create and experience art however and for whatever reasons we want.
Aight, I gotta spill the beans and gloat on you a little bit. So, rather than taking the prize money for your 2nd Place winning entry, you decided that you’d rather have it donated to Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective (BTFA Collective). Both Jen and I deeply respect your act of sincere kindness and support, especially towards marginalized communities! Oh, and thanks for putting us on them too, lolol. But anyways, what inspired you to make this decision?
JY: I grew up in an upper-middle class family and never had to worry about where I was going to get my next meal or lay my head at night. Between being a white, cisgender man and coming from a family with wealth privilege, there are certain experiences I haven’t had, such as poverty, access to healthcare and housing, etc. I felt this money should go to the BTFA Collective, because without Black Trans people, especially in art, I know I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wanted to pay it forward.
ARW: We love to see it!!! We need more people like you both inside and outside of the arts—people living their truth and recognizing their privileges! Thank you for making space for other (and “othered”) comrades among us.
On that note, are there any people, artists or non-artists alike, that inspire you in any way?
JY: So many people. Shout out to my dear friend from SCAD, Mohammed El-Kurd, who just released his new book, Rifqa. John Paul Brammer’s book, ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, is incredible and has sustained me since it came out this past summer. In terms of music, I love Radamiz’s new song, “Spades,” with Devin Tracy. Radamiz is a poet and is going to take over music. And Adele’s new song is killing me softly.
ARW: *Adds all of these people to our list of people to look up* Thank you for sharing this! I’ve got some research to do 😉 I’ma suckers for music, so I'm definitely going to listen to Radamiz and Adele ASAP. To be honest, I’ve been sleeping on the new Adele ‘cuz I’ve been addicted to Baby Keem, plus Maxo Kream just released a new album that is so sick, but I’ma make sure to listen to Adele today!
Okay, we gon’ ALWAYS ask this in these interviews ‘cause we really do always wanna know; what’s next for you, Jack?
JY: Well, just battling seasonal depression after a hot girl summer. The usual. Hahaha!
ARW: OH BABY, I feel that! I hope it doesn’t hit you hard and that you don’t have to deal with any lows for very long! We’re here to help if you need it. Whether it be someone to talk to or share art with or just joke around with, we would be happy to help. Mental health is everything.
Jack, thank you so so so much for being open with us, giving us your time, and sharing your work with us. It’s people like yourself who inspire us to do what we do!
JY: It has been an absolute pleasure talking with y’all and being a part of something as special as this inaugural exhibition. Thank you for all you’ve done, are doing, and will do in the future!
Descension, Jack Young
Check out the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts (BTFA) Collective