The Sound of Writing: an Interview with Mikhayla Robinson

Sometimes there are stories we come across that remind us a bit of ourselves. Other times it is the artist, and everything they touch with their creativity, that allows us to dig deeper into who ourselves might be, and where we stand in the midst of a revolving society that is often separated between the young and old, the Left and Right, your land and my land, or the concept of your people and my people.

At the end of the day, the artist and the art they create, whether it be through literature or music, holds the unique ability of (most often) remaining immune to this political divide. The result? The observer is prompted to simply interpret; to take everything in as it is and unexpectedly leave as a changed person with new revelations to tell.

This is also known as the direct impact storytelling has on our lives—and something of which I personally experienced when I first came across the brilliant work of Mikhayla Robinson, aka @life_in_words18 on Instagram. As a whole, not only does Robinson’s poetry portray the unique essence African-American culture, other times reflections on the universal human experience as a whole, but upon analyzing the deeper picture of some of her poems, the reader will find themselves face to face with deeper conversations that are often left of the American pop-culture mainstream. I’m not just talking about the hard topics above the surface; issues everyone from every realm seems to talk about to some extent. I’m talking about the very real issues, such as an individual fetishing a Black woman while excluding the Black experience, that are vastly treated as a mere side category (if not completed ignored) when placed under the term White privilege.

With that said, and although focusing on a vast array of subjects, one common theme I’ve always be fond of and found throughout Robinson’s work is this: undeniable honesty.

Her observations are expressed through articulate stanzas, rhythms, and metaphors. Other times she is rather straightforward. Whichever the case be, however, another thing any reader might also be reminded of when reading Robinson’s work is this:

There is no such thing as being too young or too old when it comes to unraveling the truth; for by simply acknowledging there is some truth to be told, that person has already accomplished the goal of breaking free from their own fear of speaking up or becoming vulnerable.

The Interview

Hughes: Tell us about yourself. Where are you based? What was your childhood like?

Robinson: My name is Mikhayla Robinson. I am eighteen years old and based in Augusta and Athens, Georgia. My childhood was relatively normal for the first four years of my life. I can’t remember much of it, but I do remember most of the years after my younger sister died in 2005, from a heart condition. During the following years after her passing, I became a bit more quiet, stayed to myself, and read books all the time. They became my escape.

Hughes: Is anyone else in your family creative?

Robinson: My dad used to be in a rock band in high-school, and now he is a pastor. My mom used to play the piano at church, and now she is a real-estate agent. I have an older sibling who sings.My youngest sister sings and plays the piano. I guess one could say that we are all creative, just in our own, individual, unique ways.

Hughes: Describe your first memory of creating something that caught the attention of someone else. What was their reaction? Did you intend on sharing this piece at all?

Robinson: I was in the fifth-grade. My teacher had given us an assignment: write a poem about something meaningful. I wrote about my sister that passed away. I knew that we each had to share our work, but I didn’t really expect it to affect anyone else. I don’t remember anything I wrote, I just remember my teacher crying at her desk after I finished reading it. I thought I had done something wrong, or said something wrong, but she immediately thanked me for sharing.

Hughes: The following is a quote by African-American science fiction author OctaviaE. Butler: ‘’No one was going to stop me from writing and no one had to really guide me towards science fiction. It was natural, really, that I would take that interest.’’ Do you relate to this quote at all? In terms of your relationship to writing?

Robinson: This quote is quite honestly the story of my life. I am constantly battling negative thoughts and opinions about my writing and the direction I choose to go with it.

I feel as though my writing is very fluid, but I write with the same voice, my own . That’s what is natural to me. I write whatever is on my mind, and that really can’t be stopped by anyone else.

Hughes: Describe the role of a writer to society.

Robinson: A writer tells the woes and joys of life in words. Writers have seen the unseen and know how to tell the tale. They can explain the seemingly unexplainable.

Hughes: Describe the role of society to a writer.

Society incubates the stories told by writers. It is the plot of everyone’s lives, the inescapable one. It’s the setting of every novel, article, or any written thing on this Earth. It is every writer’s muse.

Hughes: Describe the role of a writer to oneself.

Robinson: To be unapologetically themselves. My writing is a reflection of me and my view of the world around me. I owe it to myself to tell my story.

Hughes: One thing that has always captivated about your work is the amount of awareness you carry—a seasoned observation of yourself, others, and examples of society. Does this always ring true? Or do you sometimes find yourself longing for clarity?

Robinson: Sometimes I think I know too much. Sometimes I think I know too little. I always have the desire to know more, to understand more. There are just those things, though, that I will always be sure of.

Hughes: You were recently featured in Wide Eyes Publishing’s anthology War CrimesAgainst the Uterus! Can you describe your contribution to the book? For example, what is the main takeaway from the poem?

Robinson: My poem was centered around the way some white women fetishize parts of Black women, while excluding Black life. I think the main takeaway from the poem is that, if White women really care about us they should use their privilege and speak out against issues that affect Black women, and other women of color.

There are power structures present in feminism that completely erase the existence of intersectionality.

Hughes: Where does your creative inspiration mostly come from?

Robinson: My creative inspiration comes from black life, culture, the books I read, nature, movies, pictures . . . everything.

Hughes: The following is a quote by African-American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist Alice Walker: ‘’The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than Black people were made for White, or women created for men.’’ Do you believe this is accurate? How might this quote reflect 21 st century conversations surrounding civil rights and equal opportunity?

Robinson: I believe that Walker is speaking about the simple being of animals. No one group of people can say they have ownership over them. I do believe that this is accurate. While there are groups that dominate industries which promote the commodification of these animals, no one can really call into existence a true claim on them.

Hughes: What is your interpretation of modern American politics? For example, do you believe we (as a whole) are talking more efficiently about prominent social issues? Or has the amount of access we have to hearsay and the mass media contributed to the growing division between the old, young, and young(er) generations?

Robinson: I believe that our access to more advanced media has allowed for education on social issues. I feel like we are in a sort of awakening, in which we are pointing out issues that have been ignored for a long time. However, there is a growing chasm between generations, because of this. I don’t believe that it is simply the media’s fault, though. A lot of these divides already existed, they are just amplified.

Hughes: What makes you happy?

Robinson: Coffee shops, reading, bike rides, sushi, evening skies . . . I like the simple things.

Hughes: What makes you sad?

Robinson: Uncertainty is really the root of all my sadness. I suffer from what many know as the “Imposter’s Syndrome.” I have spent a lot of my time convincing myself that I am who I am, or who everyone thinks I am. I am working on this though!

Hughes: The following is a quote by African-American Muslim leader and human rights activist Malcom X: ‘’If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.’’ Do you believe this is true? If not, what is your own interpretation of critique and the role it plays to the artist?

Robinson: I believe that criticism can help you gain a holistic perspective of your writing. It’s great to hear feedback and can help you grow. Without it, I truly believe that I would be unsuccessful.

Hughes: The following is from a poem of yours:

Like weak meat. Like useless meat. Unseasoned 

But she dance for me. That dream girl

On the floor, from the first page of a brain with no imagery

Can you describe the inspiration behind this poem? Its backstory?

Robinson: This poem is about the hyper-sexualization of black women. It’s a metaphor: meat being the body and the body being more than just meat. It is from the perspective of someone who is benefitting from the woman being described in the poem. Even though the speaker sees her through a limited view, he/she still recognizes that there is more to her. She has substance. The speaker, however, still only sees her as an object. He/ She is looking to devour her in the way that meat is ravished.

Hughes: From my understanding you’re also a pianist? When did this passion take root?

Robinson: My interest in the piano started when I became a cellist in the fourth grade. My love for the cello translated to the piano. My parents started a church, years later. They needed a pianist and I decided to take the role.

Hughes: In regards to the previous, do you recall your earliest memory of playing the piano? Can you describe this moment? For example, who was there? Did someone encourage you play?

Robinson: I honestly do not recall my earliest memory of playing the piano. However, I do remember playing for the first time in front of someone. I played for my cousin who, at the time, was my piano instructor. He definitely encouraged me to play.

Hughes: What do you consider most important when creating (anything?)

Robinson: My mental state is the most important when I am creating something. My mind has to be in space where imagination and feelings can coexist. I must allow myself to let my thoughts permeate every sense of my being.

Hughes: Do you have any future plans as far as writing? Or is the craft simply a hobby?

Robinson: I definitely would love to write a novel. I also plan on teaching creative writing to younger children.

Hughes: If you were a flower what would you be? Why?

Robinson: If I was a flower I would definitely be an orchid. Orchids are super unique; I just think they fit me.

Hughes: Now for a fun one! Extraterrestrials have invaded Earth. The leader approaches and demands you to recommend the one person who can give them one reason to abort their mission of destroying mankind. Who would this individual be? Why?

Robinson: I would recommend my best friend Jasmine. She is wise beyond her years, and is very open minded. I don’t think she would even be freaked out. She’s my voice of reason, and she could very well save the planet.

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