Author and filmmaker MK Asante talks about growing up in Philly

Maya Angelou praised MK Asante's "Buck" as "a story of surviving and thriving with passion, compassion, wit, and style."  Credit: Lee Steffen
Maya Angelou praised MK Asante’s “Buck” as “a story of surviving and thriving with passion, compassion, wit and style.”
Credit: Lee Steffen

When MK Asante was 16 years old, a teacher at the Crefeld School in Chestnut Hill laid a blank piece of paper in front of him: “Write something,” she said. Asante wrote “F—k school,” on the paper and handed it back.

“That’s good. Keep going,” the teacher said. And he’s been doing just that, for the last 15 years.

“Now I was looking at her like, ‘She’s crazy,’” says Asante, now 30. “I’m looking around the class and people are taking it kind of serious, and I’m like, ‘Anything I want, huh? I didn’t know I was allowed to write the things I wanted to say.’”

This week Random House is releasing Asante’s fourth book, “Buck: A Memoir,” a personal chronicle of his one-of-a-kind youth in Philadelphia.

“In [my] poetry books, there’s a little distance. My personal story is wrapped in an abstractness that gives me some distance. But ‘Buck’ is raw. You’re right in it. The subject is me and my life,” says Asante, who now teaches creative writing at Morgan State University in Baltimore — and is the youngest professor ever to receive tenure.

Asante’s experience in this city — as he points out — is indeed as Walt Whitman put it: “I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Here are just a few snapshots: He is the son of renowned Temple University professor Molefi Kete Asante, and he attended one of the best private schools in region. And, yet, he grew up surrounded by violence and drugs; he wound up in prison, and lost his best friend to Philly’s endemic gun violence. And, yet, he made his way to UCLA and a flourishing writing career.

These days, he begins his writing classes at MSU with the very same blank page exercise he encountered 15 years ago.

“It’s the best way to get class started,” says Asante. “Just get out. Don’t let the pen stop moving. Let’s open that door in your mind — the one without a filter. We’ve all got something we need to get off our chest, now let’s find it.”

MK Asante, “Buck: A Memoir”
Central Library
1901 Vine St.
Thursday, 7 p.m.
Free, 215-567-4341
www.freelibrary.org


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