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'Buck' Tells Of Wild Childhood In 'Killadelphia'

Author MK Asante
Lee Steffen
Spiegel & Grau
Author MK Asante

Writer, hip-hop artist and filmmaker MK Asante's new memoir is called Buck. It's about growing up in North Philadelphia in the 1990s. Asante describes his adolescence as, "Me, unsupervised, with my brother gone, my dad gone, my mom gone, and me just on the block in the neighborhood, roaming the streets of Philly - just lost."

Buck captures Asante's transformation from a drug dealer and delinquent to a poet and professor.

"I wanted a title that was loaded, that was also short and to the point, but loaded in terms of its substance ...[BUCK] has references to 'make a buck.' It also has references to 'buck shots' in the air. It's to shoot. That refers to violence from where I'm from, 'Killadelphia.'"

Ultimately, Asante wants readers to realize what it means to buck the system. He says that "being a rebel, or being a true buck, isn't about doing the things that result in you ending up in jail. But being a true buck is bucking against the status quo, bucking against the statistics, the norm."

Staring at a blank page helped Asante re-imagine himself.

Asante has won several prestigious prizes, including the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award for poetry. He spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about finding his voice in Buck.

Interview Highlights

What 'Buck' is about
Well I think, first of all, the story is about education. It's about mis-education, re-education, self-education, street education. It's about the difference and the distance between school and education. Mark Twain said, 'Don't let school get in the way of your education.' I learned this first hand. And think that it's also about the redemption of family. 'Without struggle, there is no progress.' We know Frederick Douglass said that. And, although we go through struggles in my family, it's ultimately a story about a family uniting in so many ways: me and my dad's situation, my mom getting healthier, dancing again. And it's also about the power of art to do all these things, because this story is about me finding my voice as a writer.

Writing during the trial of George Zimmerman
There is a Trayvon Martin situation happening almost every day in this country. And I think what 'BUCK' does is that it helps remind people that, even though there's cases that we know about, there are so many cases that we don't know about. That are happening all the time...'BUCK' is written because, not only is this my story, but this is the story of a lot of people going through these situations in urban America.

Who 'Buck' is for
The best compliment I ever received was, I was at a juvenile detention center, and the guy who ran the prison — he told me that he gives my books to kids who hate reading. So I feel like in a lot of ways, this book is written for the kid that has never read anything that's resonated with him. That's never read anything that saw him or her. And when I say 'saw,' I'm talking about where they were acknowledged, right? Their story, their experience, their language was acknowledged.

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