Insightful and down-to-earth, conversing with writer Myles E. Johnson feels like catching up at brunch with an old friend. Nothing short of laughs, wisdom and a feeling of community and kinship, Johnson is a fiery creative curator and the author of national phenomenon Large Fears. The story of Jeremiah Nebula, a pink-loving black queer boy daydreaming of going to Mars, Large Fears has taken America by storm, catching the attention of outlets like Buzzfeed and NBC News. After an exchange of hellos, I got the pleasure of speaking with this amazing soul as our first featured artist for The Writer’s Block here at For The Scribes.
Willie Kinard: I’m not gonna ask you where are you from or where’s home for you. Instead, where are you a local?
Myles E. Johnson: Hmmm, I am a local of a couple of different places. I’m a local in New York and Atlanta. I was born in New York, grew up in Harlem. Then we moved to Long Island, so New York is definitely home. I feel like I’m a native there, so I could definitely show someone my favorite spots. And then Atlanta, I came here going into high school. I know of all the places to see, get food and where to go and not to go after certain times. I love Atlanta. There are so many black people here and being LGBT, it’s one of the few places you can be black and queer and feel like the majority. My family is so New York and friends are so Atlanta, I’m really just half and half.
WK: As a millennial black queer creative and writer, who were your artistic influences growing up?
Johnson: I would say that my first artistic inspirations weren’t writers. My first ones were like the Michael Jacksons. People with big personalities always drew me and those that created worlds out of nothing, like Prince. They were bigger than life. I didn’t necessarily know I was going to be a writer, but the people that always made me fall in love with words first and foremost were musicians: Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Courtney Love, Fiona Apple. Getting older, when I started having my favorite authors, that’s when Bell Hooks, James Baldwin, Chuck Palahniuk, Kurt Vonnegut. Anaïs Nin is the reason that I started writing for muse. She wrote about these surreal stories and books, like House of Incest. She was a surreal version of Carrie Bradshaw. I used to think that that was so beautiful. That’s what got me writing about my own life and I wanted to hone in on that.
When I look at my work now, I know that with most of the projects I do, I always try to create a world and not just a product.
WK: How does a writing session for you go?
Johnson: A writing session for me, if it’s a big project or a book, usually starts with me finding enough excuses to not write it. Like “I don’t need to write that.” It usually keeps eating at me though and soon, I have a world, a character and things that I want them to say and do. For personal essays or an article, a situation, something inspirational or very revolting, [that] moves me. Just a quick interaction with an emotion and [I can] write 1,000 words. It doesn’t take that much.
WK: Jeremiah Nebula, a little boy who likes pink things (with a fly mohawk by the way, shout out to illustrator Kendrick Daye). Where did inspiration for this little kid with such a big imagination come from?
Johnson: From me, being a child. I feel like all really good art derives from a reconciliation process and we all have things to reconcile. I wanted to reconcile with my childhood. I didn’t have a bad one, but being black and queer, I had things that limited me or that I needed to get over in adulthood, so I wanted to do something that reimagined my childhood. [I kept] some things the same, like honoring my relationship with my mother. But, other things like being scared, not knowing how to deal with fear and being a prisoner of your imagination, I didn’t get over until adulthood so I created Jeremiah Nebula. This boy who was human with flaws and insecurities, but inside of them, birthed this superhuman bravery and these superpowers that help him get the things that he desires. I think that’s an important lesson for people to learn.
WK: You dedicate Large Fears to “the kids,” the boys that love pink, the girls that love blue, and the kids that look in the mirror and don’t agree with what is looking back them. Being black and queer, two minorities in one body, we culturally do a lot of reclaiming and redefining of things. You also have a movement called Black Boys Love Pink, involving a photo campaign and t-shirts. Is that apart of that and are there any ideas or plans for expansion, non-profit work maybe?
Johnson: Yes. I grew up in loved in pro-queer home with a supportive family. Interacting with the [outside] world though, I constantly asked and wondered could I be [myself] in public, making me question my worth. With Large Fears and the Black Boys Love Pink movement, it’s really saying, “This is who I am.” It’s not asking permission to be who you are, but declaring [it] and not worrying about whether people are going to accept or validate it or not. As far as ideas, yes. Plans, no. Black Boys Love Pink is at a different space than where Large Fears is. I have multiple photoshoots for it, but I haven’t released them yet. Right now, I’m letting it cook, letting it build.
Mars has always seemed like a place where Black paradise was possible.
WK: As far as Jeremiah and planets go, why Mars?
Johnson: A lot of the music I was listening to, some ’80s music and some hip-hop, referenced Mars. David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” Jay Z, Kanye West & Beyoncé’s “Lift Off” references Mars and Kelis has a song called “Mars.” Also, the literature I was reading at the time referenced it too. Thinking back to a particular short story by Ray Bradbury, he wrote about black people colonizing Mars and that made me love it. He’s one of my favorite authors ever. It’s only about 5,000 words. It just seemed kind of natural to put Jeremiah on Mars.
WK: With these new findings of liquid water running on Mars, what would Jeremiah Nebula have to say about this finding?
Johnson: I think Jeremiah Nebula would say “Duh. Of course there’s water here. Mama Nebula would never let me drink juice and chocolate milk all day. I need water too.” I don’t think he’d be impressed.
WK: So what’s next for Myles Johnson? Will we see more of Jeremiah Nebula?
Johnson: [I want] to definitely keep on doing things with Large Fears. I’m in preparation to do more community work in Atlanta [and] being more involved with LGBT youth. I want the Black Boys Love Pink initiative to get larger. I am prepping to release a platform that centers femme queer people, featuring visuals and literature, like the avant grade. Much like a digital zine that’ll directly connect to Large Fears. [For Jeremiah], I originally wrote two other [books] when I wrote Large Fears, but the second book is definitely going to be bigger. Jeremiah will have friends and go to different places. If the first is like Little Bill or Dora the Explorer or Clifford, the second book will be more like Alice in Wonderland, Willy Wonka, The Wizard of Oz and really creating a magical world for him while talking to publishers. I’m very, very, very excited for it.
WK: I personally cried reading the first page and a decent bit throughout the rest of the book. It felt like the bit of me that was like 5 or 6 years old me felt like someone finally understood the kid in me. What advice do you have for queer and LGBT children of color?
Johnson: You’re on purpose. You have big things to do. You have a big mission here and your main goal and priority right now should be to be about the business of doing that. It’s all for a purpose that’s so much bigger than you could ever imagine. If I could give some type of hope and advice to young queer black people, that would be it. You’re on purpose and you have a purpose.
For more information on Myles E. Johnson and Jeremiah Nebula’s adventures, visit www.largefears.com. For more on the awesome galactic illustration in Large Fears, visit illustrator Kendrick Daye at www.alldaye.com.