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    How James Spooner and Chris L. Terry created the ‘Black Punk Now’ book
    • December 20, 2023

    At the beginning of the new anthology “Black Punk Now,” co-editor James Spooner recounts one of the first searches he did on a computer he bought in 2001. He googled the term “Black punk.”

    “There were exactly zero links,” he writes. “In all of the World Wide Web, I was alone.”

    Chris L. Terry, the anthology’s other co-editor, had similar experiences growing up in Boston and Richmond, Virginia. He was a fan of Bad Brains, the Black punk pioneers, and had met some fellow Black punk fans, but says, “I was having a hard time reconciling my Blackness with my punkness. I wished there was more out there. It still felt like you could be Bad Brains, or you could be White.” 

    See more: Spooner and Terry talk about the books that have inspired them.

    Spooner would go on to film the documentary “Afro-Punk,” which became a community, and later — to his dismay — a corporate brand. The transition did have an upside, though: It spawned a wave of Black punks. 

    “That new generation of active Black punks went on to start their own festivals, collectives, and conversations,” writes Spooner, who also created the graphic novel, “The High Desert” about growing up punk in Apple Valley. “That is where this book ‘Black Punk Now’ centers itself.”

    Terry, meanwhile, turned to his beloved punk rock as the inspiration for his first novel for adults, 2019’s “Black Card,” about a mixed-race punk musician in Richmond who is determined to prove that he’s “Black enough” after he doesn’t push back at a White person for using a racist slur. NPR named it one of the best books of the year, with critic Jason Heller calling it “an enormously fun read about a decidedly less than fun topic.”

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    “Black Punk Now,” Spooner and Terry’s collaboration, is a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, and comics, featuring a roundtable of femme punk festival organizers, and pieces by contributors including Hanif Abdurraqib, Joanna Davis-McElligatt, and Mariah Stovall. 

    Spooner and Terry discussed “Black Punk Now” via Zoom from Los Angeles, where they both live. This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

    Q: What was the inspiration for this project?

    TERRY: When I was promoting my most recent novel, “Black Card,” I was meeting a lot of the new generation of younger, more diverse punks. There are a lot more Black punk rockers now than there were when I was coming up 20, 25 years ago. I got the feeling that there was just so much cool stuff out there, and I wanted a way to engage with and support that. I started thinking, “What if I could? I want to read all these stories, and I bet other people do, too.” 

    I was a punk in the ‘90s, and I got into punk at the time when I was trying to understand my own racial identity as a mixed-race Black person. There were times where being punk felt simpler than being Black for me, but also being punk and being Black felt mutually exclusive. I could be one or the other. So I wanted to make something that would’ve been really helpful for myself 30 years ago, that I could have handed to myself and said, “No, you can be both, and you can thrive in that way. There are ways to feel supported and seen.” James and I had been talking about how punk is cooler now than it was when we were coming up, so I thought it would be really awesome to work on a book with him, especially because I feel like he is the Black punk guy. With him involved, we could probably get an even wider variety of contributions for the book, and I think it would add even more credibility to the project. So I was really glad that he was free and willing.

    Q: How did you both go about setting the lineup for this book?

    TERRY: James and I are both in our forties, and we were hoping to find people who were outside of our Rolodexes — if I may continue to age myself — outside of our contact lists. We did a public call for submissions because we didn’t want it to seem like we were gatekeeping the book that we were editing. So we were introduced to some people through submissions. Some people, it was friends of friends, otherwise it was connections. A lot of the time, it felt like a way to gather our friends and the people that we care about and put them all in one place and kind of throw a party for our friends and celebrate the stuff that they’re doing. 

    Q: How much input did you have into the design of the book?

    SPOONER: Chris and I had pretty much complete control over what it looked like. The two of us sat down and kind of just discussed whether we wanted it to be. We don’t want it to look too much like a fat zine; we were going back and forth with things that we liked. All those illustrations were kind of done in the 11th hour. We knew we were going to have chapter author markers for each person, but at some point, I was like, “Oh, let me just draw everybody.”

    TERRY: We wanted to give people breathers between some of the pieces in there because it is a really varied collection, and it’s kind of dense, and we wanted to balance that out with some eye-catching illustrations, and also maybe find a way to take the zine aesthetics, the cut-and-paste punk art that we both love and came up on, and put that on a bigger stage, elevate that in some way.

    Q: A lot of the contributors to this book are women or people in the LGBTQ+ community. Would it be fair to say that they’re kind of at the forefront, playing a leadership role in this new generation of punk music?

    TERRY: Punk is definitely not just Blacker, it’s more diverse in every way, be it gender, sexuality, age, even social class. I’d say it’s more accessible to people who might not have an easy time affording to take a month off work to go on a fan tour, because there’s more ways to get your stuff out there. What do you think, James?

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    SPOONER: When I first started talking to Chris about doing the roundtable with all the festival organizers, the thing that was notable, but not surprising, was that every festival except for one is organized by a Black woman or femme, so I wanted to definitely point that out. We have all these dudes on stage, but it’s often women who are the unsung heroes, and that goes all the way back to the origins. If you look at a lot of the photographers or zine makers, or you talk to bands and talk about who was putting on the shows, it was often women. So it was a great opportunity to have them speak for themselves.

    TERRY: I think our book does really bring women and queer voices to the forefront, and that was something that we wanted to do, but we didn’t have to make a special effort to do that. It happened pretty naturally just from the people who we were able to get in the book.

    ​ Orange County Register