Clint Smith is a writer and doctoral candidate at Harvard University and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the National Science Foundation. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and his writing has been published in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, The Guardian, Boston Review, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. He is the author of Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He was born and raised in New Orleans.
Here, he talks about breaking an Oreo habit, how is first words were French fry, and how quintessential New Orleans food helped him recover after Hurricane Katrina.
On his all-time favorite meal:
I was born and raised in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina made landfall three days into my senior year of high school. Our home was subsumed beneath eight feet of water and I finished high school living with my aunt and uncle in Houston. That year of my life was marked by a sense of precariousness I hadn’t previously known, and one that for many years I didn’t know how to articulate. What I do know is that amid a prevailing sense of uncertainty, I gained a deeper appreciation for and was re-grounded in cultural markers that were quintessentially New Orleans, and at the top of that list is the food. In that sense, one of the most important meals I’ve ever had was Christmas day in 2005 at my grandparents’ house in New Orleans. They lived in a part of the city that hadn’t been flooded, and but for a quick trip back to recover some items in October, it was the first time I’d spent more than twenty-four hours back home since the storm. To be surrounded by those I love most, the table ornamented with gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, stuffed bell peppers and a host of other dishes that are emblematic of the place and people who make me feel whole, was to be reminded of that things a flood can’t wash away.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
Well my favorite meal of the day is dinner, and my favorite person to eat dinner with is my partner. She works until about eight so we typically eat dinner late in the evening. We’ve recently purchased a dining room table for our new apartment, though we’ve not gotten in the habit of sitting there because we previously lived in small studio where all we had was a couch and I think it’s been tough to break the habit. So typically we’ll be on the couch, and the overhead ceiling light is a bit unpleasant, so we have four lamps in the living room that illuminate the room so that it’s more than dim, though not overbearing. I also really enjoy the quotidian process of turning off each lamp one by one before heading to bed. It’s a small ritual of daily closure that I’ve come to finding meditative in a way.
On snacking while writing:
Well, I’m in the process of getting over a pretty severe Double-Stuf Oreo habit. Those things really pull you in. First you eat two, then the whole bag is gone and you’ve only written two sentences. Alas. Generally, I don’t eat while I’m in the process of writing. I may sneak in some grapes or a clementine during a short break, but if I eat while writing I inevitably make a mess all over my laptop or notebook. Also writing, for me, is a singular experience and I’m the sort of person that likes to devote all of my attention to the task at hand.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I’m obsessed with kettle corn. I don’t know what it is but that amalgamation of sweet and salty is really delightful. Though, I will say, there’s nothing worse than burnt popcorn. So there’s really a ten second sweet spot in the microwave that makes the difference between the perfect snack and sending it straight to the garbage.
On his food quirks:
I don’t like chocolate, which is strange I realize considering that one of the first things I said was how much I love Oreos, but I feel like those don’t really count. But yeah, chocolate is terrible. So is coffee. I have weak spot for barbeque ribs. It’s pretty bad. If I go to a restaurant and they have baby back ribs there is a 97% chance that I’m going to order them. Also, my first word(s) was French fry. I thought my mom was making it up but she swears it’s the truth. I’m not surprised, a good French fry is a small piece of heaven.
On his final meal request:
Well, I would certainly want it to be with my partner, and we’ve got a little boy on the way in a few months so hopefully it would be with him as well. I think, ideally, I would want my last meal to be not so different than the majority of my other meals. I think there’s something comforting about routine, about consistency. I hope I’m sitting on the couch, laughing with the people I love, a bowl of gumbo or jambalaya on the table, and a few lamps on to illuminate the room.