Dwight Hobbes, Minnesota’s most widely published essayist, has written for Essence, Reader’s Digest and Washington Post, currently contributing to Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and One Nation News. Hobbes is also an accomplished playwright, published author and singer/songwriter. Let’s get to know this amazing man.
Sapphire: I was very impressed with your resume. You have had your writing published in so many places, many of them notable, congratulations. How long have you been writing professionally and what encouraged you to pursue the craft?
D. Hobbes: 1980, Essence bought a short story. I’ve told the story but don’t mind saying again. Marcia Ann Guillespie, publisher at the time, who personally plucked “One Going, One Staying” off an editor’s desk, read the first page and said, over that editor’s objections actually, “We’re publishing this.” I was, of course, blown away to get the contract and acceptance letter. After receiving so many rejections by that time, I had to keep reading and re-reading to make sure this wasn’t some kind of mistake. An April Fool’s joke or Candid Camera. That story – they call it short fiction, these days – something Dan Levin at Long Island University encouraged, insisted really, I submit to the campus literary magazine. When it was accepted, I was hooked on trying to repeat that success. Having absolutely no idea how hard it would be.
Sapphire: You’ve had books traditionally published by a publishing company versus the self-publishing method popular with many independent authors right now. For those who haven’t dealt with an actual publishing company can you describe the process of having your book published by a publishing company.
D. Hobbes: Sure. Again, if you can’t deal with being turned down time after time, at place after place, this business simply isn’t for you. Send a query letter and synopsis of your manuscript, asking the literary manager to look at two sample chapters. Best case scenario, they’ll agree and you send those pages. Then, move on to something else while you wait, because sitting around obsessing about them to get back to you will drive you up a wall. And if you start pestering them for a response, they’re liable to simply return it so fast your head won’t stop spinning for a week. If they do like it, read the contract closely. In fact, if you know anyone who’s been published, ask him or her to look at it. Don’t be so glad you got a green light you’re afraid to stick up for your work and ask for changes in the deal the publisher is offering. Because once you, sign away certain rights – film, serialization, what have you – and sign on the dotted line, you can’t undo it. Odds are if your requests are reasonable a sensible publisher will play ball and that will be that. As for self-publishing, before the Internet with Kindle, Nook and such, self-publishing, vanity press, was a trap for writers desperate to get their work in front of readers. Still can be. You pay an arm and a leg for printing, binding and so forth and all the so-called publisher really does for you is cash your check. No promotion. Editing. Maybe not even proofreading. A rule of thumb about that. If your work is worth publishing, it’s worth that cost coming out of someone else’s pocket. Amazon are working out of generosity or good will. It’s dirt cheap to offer writers a good royalty rate since the company makes their money selling the machines required to read the book. You win, ’cause they win. Everyone’s happy.
Sapphire: How did How To Find Love Without Losing Your Mind come about? What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
D. Hobbes: Well, I laugh about it sometimes in retrospect, turning a bad experience into productive work, but it wasn’t funny back then. Maybe a few days, not even a full week into, in fact, the last relationship I had, the handwriting was already on the wall in block letters that this was not going to work. I was not going to walk away empty handed, nothing to show but a fleeting memory. So, began turning hers and my interactions – no, I didn’t name her and violate her privacy – into weekly installments of “Something I Said” at Insight News. Now at Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. Eventually, those essays went in a collection at Papyrus Publishing, Inc. Minnesota’s only black small press. When Indie Gypsy accepted Black & Single Blues, I had a chance to relax and look around. It was fun to stop being serious all the time, social commentary, scripting dramas. Decided before returning to my regular thing that I would just a little bit more fun. Between those essays in the first book, plus essays and articles for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder then creating another 20 30 pages. Ta-da! How To Find Love Without Losing Your Mind off-the-cuff stuff food for thought. I’d love for folk to take away with them that simple solutions solve complicated situations. It’s all in how you look it. And, you know, emotions have a way of fogging up our vision. You look at the fundamental A, B, C’s of what’s going on between you and her, a human being just like you. Things get clearer.
Sapphire: I read that you’re working on a new book, a drama based on the life of Effa Manley, the Negro Baseball League’s only female owner. I’ve never heard of her, I’m going to have to do my research on her story. Can you tell us anything about the book?
D. Hobbes: Well, its a stage drama based on her career. You know, we look back on Jackie breaking the color barrier in baseball. What he went through, what that accomplished for not just him but Larry Doby who there at the same time. And, naturally, those who came after and those who now make ungodly millions at the sport. What seldom gets considered is this all came at a huge cost. As white club owners raided Negro League teams, disregarding whether these athletes were under contract or not, an entire profession of black-owned operations was destroyed. Effa Manley, savvy businesswoman, was a social activist who courageously kept her club afloat – the most successful teams faced harsh economic circumstance. Know how she kept the ball club in the black? By running a bookie parlor. She saw her livelihood ripped away by what passed for social progress. When you think on it, an alternative to black players being stolen by white teams would’ve been black capitalists investing strongly enough to keep them solvent and compete with white salaries. Just the way white capitalists have always invested in sports franchises. That didn’t happen, though. When I found about this woman, the more interested I grew. Until I simply couldn’t not dramatize this woman’s passionate commitment to community. Sadly, when big money came along to regularly put food on the table, clothes on families’ backs black players were in no position to turn that down.
Sapphire: Essayist, author, playwright, I’m wondering if there is anything you can’t do. I love how diverse you are as a writer. You’ve directed a variety of plays but I’m extremely interested in Robinson, a one-act drama based on the life and career of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was commissioned by the African American Museum and Cultural Center, that is very impressive. How did you end up working on this project? What did you want your production to convey to people about the famed athlete?
D. Hobbes: I can’t resist, for a laugh, throwing in that ages ago I also used to act. In community theatre. And last year did a bit part in an Indie film. Fact is, sure there’s things I can’t do. Can’t draw a straight line without a rule and sometimes even with if the paper moves. Only thing I can paint is a wall and ain’t the greatest at that. I don’t direct. Worked with some pretty good directors, though. The late Claude Purdy, the cat who discovered August Wilson and never really got his due, I had the privilege of his dramaturging Shelter, about being homeless. Thanks to which it was hit. At Mixed Blood Theatre. How I got the Museum and Cultural Center gig, Anura Si-Asar was in the process of publishing Something I Said or had just published it. They asked him to go find someone to create a stage piece. Well, instead of knocking himself out beating the bushes and running ads, he had me right there on tap. So, I lucked out. What I conveyed as a sense of purpose was beyond a stock idea. Sure, the man symbolized progress but he wasn’t just a symbol. Generally he’s hailed for his bravery. Some have denigrated him as a sellout. Fact is, the guy was complicated and complex. He had bucked racism long before The Dodgers. Robinson, in the Army was courtmartialed ostensibly for insubordination. In reality for being uppity, not staying in his place. He beat the charges. After baseball, certain quarters condemned him for working with the white establishment. Jackie, way previous to Ralph Nader coining the concept, was trying to work within the system to change the system. And got double-crossed by President Eisenhower. Whereupon he wrote a letter telling the president about himself. The brother was deep.
Sapphire: I usually ask people if outside of their chosen career, what other talents are they hiding. You don’t hide your talents at all. You’re also an accomplished singer. Where do you find time? But seriously, as a singer you’ve performed in front of crowds across the nation. Where did your love of music come from? Do you just perform or do you write your own music as well?
D. Hobbes: Singing, songwriting. That’s what I started out doing first. As a teenager, taking my poetry, putting it to music by learning guitar chords. I grew up on Richie Havens, listening real close. HIs unique style reached me way down deep. Can’t tell you how blown away I was by the opportunity to interviewing him. And to meet him. You’re right. It is hard to find enough time. I recorded a CD, Angels Don’t Really Fly. It’s sitting on hold because there’s no time or sufficient resource to market it. Pretty much because of Black & Single Blues. Which pushed music to a back burner. There’s a single “Atlanta Children” I cut for BeatBad Records mourning the murder of 22 kids in Georgia. I make time for music when a performing gigs turns up. Jump on it with both feet.
Sapphire: What advice would you give an aspiring writer who wants to get their writing noticed by mainstream publications like Essence and Readers Digest such as you have?
D.Hobbes: It’s a tough racket, no two ways about it. You know that, yourself. Sapphire, your considerable success surely wasn’t a matter of have a dream, add hot water and get instant career. You gotta be willing to work and work hard. And if you don’t need to do it like you need to breathe, go do something else. Because, unless you’re just lucky and have things handed to you through serious connections – that does happen – nothing less than complete commitment to the craft is going to see you through. They could also take a page from your book. It’s said that even more than aptitude, attitude decides one’s altitude. And I see clear as day yours is a can-do outlook, full speed ahead, watch out, ’cause Sexy Sapphire rockin’ the house. That kind of confidence is crucial.
Sapphire: What projects are you currently working on beside the book on Effa Manley?
D. Hobbes: It’s a drama. Titled Ella Stanley, because like that cat who changed boxer Jack Johnson to Jack Jefferson for The Great White Hope, you can get the essential truth in a story without the pain in the ass of legalities.
People knew who The Great White Hope was about. They’ll realize this pays tribute to Effa Manley. What else? Black & Single Blues 3, the final novel in a series. Keith & Lesli: Black & Single Blues II was serialized at Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and sometime this spring, have to talk with Jae Bryson at One Nation News about placing it there. Getting Out, essays on domestic abuse and rape. Naturally, projects are on the drawing board. I should stop working long enough to research and apply for some of these funding grants for artists and authors. Especially before Trump cuts the purse strings. It’s incredible the first thing he went after was the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sapphire: You do commission work as well as write the things that interest you. How could someone go about hiring you for a project?
D. Hobbes: Facebook at www.facebook.com/dwight.hobbes.
Sapphire: Where can people find your books, videos, essays and other work. Please provide your website, social media and YouTube links.
D.Hobbes: www.dwighthobbes.weebly.co is courtesy of Indie Gypsy. Let me take a minute and say Shelley Halima, it’s her company, wouldn’t touch a romance novel with a ten-foot pole. But, flipped for Black & Single Blues. Which looks over the shoulder of a fella who finds the love of his life, loses her, then has to go get her back. Check out www.indiegypsy.com/author-page.html. How To Find Love Without Losing Your Mind (Kindle/Amazon.com) is at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019BH7CV2/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_6HcKwb16X21QX.
Something I Said about domestic abuse, rape, relationships and other issues, published by Papyrus Publishing sold out of its first edition at Papyrus Publishing. It’s available on Kindle: [INSERT]. Music on You Tube: “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPlynxnN7o), a blues by Blind Rev. Gary Davis that makes you want to get right out of bed on a grey, drizzling morning and cut your throat. And “Pretty Girl” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgSOGldXGfY)
Thanks for this interview. For exposing what I do to your fans and followers.