If you enjoy reading about the awkward, angry, and scary parts of a young black boy growing into himself, David Hobdy III, an alum of Indian Springs School, might be the author for you. In this interview we ask him about his three stories: Tangled and Nappy (2016), Racist Sandwiches (2016), and Old Boys Young Men (2017). Read on to find out how a school can affect a man’s race, how music can affect a man’s writing, and how Subway can affect a man’s heart.
Alecia Hobdy: Tangled and Nappy is based on what seems like your racial coming of age story. Since your journey started when you were in 7th Grade, how did your school environment affect your new sense of pride in your race? Was there ever anyone at your school who encouraged and allowed you to learn more about your race? How did the change from your middle school to Indian Springs School change your view on race?
David Hobdy: First and foremost, I wouldn’t give Indian Springs specifically any real credit in terms of affecting how I see race, but rather just the experience of existing in a place that is largely affluent and white and seeing what those two things mean in the context of the ways young white minds develop. It was especially helpful to gain intimate, firsthand knowledge of how blackness can be coveted and performed in some aspects by white people, while at the same time being treated like a plague. It is worth saying that around 7th grade, in the school attended before Indian Springs School, there seemed to be a good deal of erasure going on. People didn’t want to hear me talk about the history of gangs or The Black Panthers or anything. Any kind of jokes about the terrible things that happened to people of color throughout the history of the world as we know it was met with… resistance (I ended up in the principal’s office a lot). They wanted me to think of myself as the same as the other kids. I understand that from the perspective of someone trying to keep order in a middle school, but as far as raising children of color, I think it’s ultimately harmful to us to think of ourselves as no different from white children. Indian Springs, as an institution, didn’t take any steps to try to conceal that fact or divert my attention from it. And for that, I thank the people that were in charge when I attended Springs. You can’t raise black kids or kids of color thinking that they are 100% the same as white kids. The world doesn’t treat us that way. You’ll die if you behave that way. It’s imperative that you understand the ways you are different and how it affects your life so that you can make choices that would be advantageous to yourself.
Alecia: In Tangled and Nappy, a narrative speaking on your new appreciation and pride in African American hair, you seemed to have a lot of anger towards those who opposed your hair choices, as well as those who were amused by them. It looks as if you were saying in this story what you wish you could have said back then. Is this true? If so, how do you find the balance between telling a story of your past and your current comments and reactions?
David: I think at the time I probably did say some of that out loud haha. I was much more… explosive back then, I think. I don’t know if it was just teenage hormones or feeling like I had to be that way to combat being profiled in any one way or the other, but I was much angrier and prone to make that anger known at that age. With that being said, in the context of writing I feel like I personally have to speak of the past in my present voice because not only would I find it hard to mimic what my voice would have been, but I also am a big fan of describing memories as they come to you. Meaning, I try to paint the picture exactly how it comes to me when I think of it and avoid filtering it one way or another. It’s not always a perfect way of doing things and I don’t always do it perfectly but that’s where that sort of snarky, sardonic voice comes from.
Alecia: In both Tangled and Nappy and Racist Sandwiches, your language choice is both extremely educated yet informal. How do you skillfully balance this tone without ruining it? How would you say your writing has changed since you wrote Tangled and Nappy your senior year at Indian Springs to now?
David: I don’t know that I didn’t ruin it. That sort of thing comes from how much stand up comedy and rap I listen to, I think. In both of those disciplines there’s this beautiful juxtaposition of mastery of language and vulgarity that I think works very well. I think there’s a false dichotomy between informality or vulgarity and intelligence or substance, you know? Some of the people that have taught me the most in this world cursed like sailors and some people that talk like saints have heads full of rocks. That was mean. But not a lie.
Alecia: In Tangled and Nappy, you mention Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 and eventually To Pimp a Butterfly. How does his music, both when you were 17 writing this story and now, affect your writing and music?
David: I think anything creative that you consume comes out in what you create in some form or another. At that point in time, Kendrick was my absolute favorite rapper because the way he went about presenting his art was wholly different than the other stuff I was listening to. Now everyone and everything is socially conscious so it seems like less of a big deal, but when you think about it Kendrick was way ahead of the curve in terms of speaking about black history and the state of black people in such a casual but thorough way. Like he would be rapping about gang violence and harkening back to the anti black indoctrination of this country and juxtaposing it with tribal warfare in Africa over a trap beat with Assassin yelling in a patois accent during the hook. 17 year old me didn’t stand a chance, man. That was when I fell in love with the idea of art that is so densely entrenched in other art that you have to research every little thing because it’s reference to something else. If a piece cannot be digested as a whole on its own, because it demands that you have more knowledge than it itself brings to completely make sense to you, I’m quickly enthralled. Albums like To Pimp A Butterfly and Milo’s So The Flies Don’t Come broadened my horizons SO much with respect to black literature, philosophy and history. I try a lot to impart that sort of quality in anything I write or create now. I like to have references that you have to research to understand. It feels more involved that just saying something that you’d get on the first pass. I’ve heard conflicting opinions on how helpful that is for some pieces that is though, haha.
Alecia: You start Racist Sandwiches by giving your readers the impression that you find comfort in Subway’s Meatball Sub and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies? How did it feel to have had that comfort tainted with racism? Do you still eat Subway currently? If so, is it still tainted now 3 years later? Did this situation change your point of view on Subway as a brand? Did this make you think more into other brands and the way that they treat minorities both in-store and in their advertisements?
David: I thought about this a lot and honestly I think that the type of person who loves Subway and would actively seek it out above other food options needs to be on a list so we can keep an eye on them because they are clearly volatile and prone to some form of violence. I still eat Subway but purely because it ends up being the best option. That’s the only reason their business model is working. It’s literally just barely better for your physical well being that the other options in its vicinity. I wish you could get my tone through text. I don’t hate Subway but I do wish no one on this earth ever had to eat there. As far as things being tainted, I can’t think of a single thing that isn’t tainted with racism these days. That story was sort of about me realizing that. The fact that nothing is safe from racism.
Alecia: Seeing as you are still in college, do you ever find it harder to write? Is writing your main focus? What steps did you take to get Old Boys, Young Men published? Are you working on anything new that you are pushing to have published?
David: Specifically for me, since I’m only an english minor, writing is on the back burner for me a lot of the time. Which is extremely frustrating because I’m the type of person that truly needs to create things to be healthy. Like I start to feel myself physically and mentally deteriorate if I’m not making music or writing or drawing or whatever. As a result, I’ve made it less of a point to do any one thing and just carve out time daily to be creative in whatever capacity I’m able to. Sometimes I draw characters during class, sometimes I write a poem or two before bed, sometimes I record something on guitar. But it has to be something. Otherwise I feel like I’ve wasted the day.
Alecia: Old Boys, Young Men seems to be personally written. Is any part of Old Boys, Young Men based on your life or the life of someone you know? You also show off your in-depth knowledge of hunting in this story, specifically bow hunting. Did you research this for the story or is it something that just interests you? How do your interests influence your writing?
David: It’s 100% just me retelling a part of my life, haha. I just called myself The Boy, partly as a reference to Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet screenplay, but mostly because I knew it would get on my nerves to constantly say “I did this, I did that.” There’s also a tonal shift you get with writing from the 3rd person, which I think worked out better. As far as the hunting related content, I’m a hunter so I have pretty intimate knowledge of that kind of stuff. I think every time I’ve tried to write about an interest I didn’t personally have, it’s come out in the story. I’m not sure you can really fake that. At least I can’t. When writing about something that does interest me, I honestly find it hard not to go overboard and bore the hell out of people talking about single pin sights vs multiple pin or germanium vs silicon fuzz circuits.
David Hobdy hails from Birmingham, AL and attends Loyola University in New Orleans, majoring in Philosophy Pre-Law and minoring in English Writing. His work has been seen previously in From Sac and Barking Sycamores, and he is currently gigging and doing poetry readings in the New Orleans Area.