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Home » Discover Rackham » Alumni Spotlight: Nate Marshall

This summer, Nate Marshall @illuminatemics taught at a summer writing institute for young people in Chicago. It is work he loves, and it requires a lot of him. But there are several other big things, things that Nate has given a lot of himself to, in the eaves of 2015. Recently, his rap album with his group “Daily Lyrical Product,” Grown, was released, and his book of poetry, Wild Hundreds (Pittsburgh Press) released in September. In the fall he will be a visiting professor at Wabash College.

All this, and it has only been one year since Nate graduated from the University of Michigan with his M.F.A. (‘14).

Nate says that his time at Michigan was “invaluable.” Partially, of course, he says this was because of the funding and access to books and mentorship, but mostly, it was because of the time:“Time is particularly valuable for a writer and an artist, because before you get to the point where you’re trying to get your M.F.A., you are working alongside other things. So you write while you hold down a day job or as you’re going to school for undergrad for something else. The M.F.A. is a different kind of engagement, and it teaches you a lot about how you work, your rhythm, and the things that are most valuable, successful, and happy in terms of work. For me that was the defining thing about Michigan; I got to learn a lot about myself as an artist, creator, as a teacher.”

His time at Michigan must have been well-spent, because Nate’s sense of self and themes of his work are solidly defined. He is deeply committed to his home in the South Side of Chicago:“I don’t believe in leaving. I don’t know if it’s ever actually possible, first off, and it's also not what I want to do. Every time I’ve left home I’ve thought of that as a temporary move, and I still do. Even if I leave and never come back, I still think of it as a temporary thing. James Baldwin has this quote, which is the epigraph of my book: ‘You don’t ever leave home. You take home with you. You better, otherwise you’re homeless.’”

His book, Wild Hundreds, incorporates the themes of the love of home, as well as the themes that his corpus of work commits to: “The questions that I wrestle with are about Black people and Black lives and how Black folks do creativity, both in the sense of song and dance, what we think of as creative arts, but also in improvisation, of creative survival.”

It is easy to trace the through lines of Nate’s interests and talents–even his time at the University of Michigan is a continuation of his origin story. As a middle school student, he started looking to writers and rappers that he admired and began to equip himself with the attributes that he thought made them successful. And as he began crafting his voice, his commitment to staying home, both in the physical and metaphorical sense, persevered: “When I started writing poetry I also started writing raps,” he says. “In many ways they’re the same thing for me, or at least they came from the same place in my mind, in my body. I love to be able to communicate to certain audiences. For whatever reason, something that has the label of ‘poem,’ or ‘book,’ or ‘literary journal,’–there are audiences that cannot or will not access that. But they might access the same ideas, and they can be much more meaningful and accessible if they’re in a song. For me it’s all about the connection. It’s something that as a writer I’m always trying to negotiate: what am I trying to say, who am I trying to say it to, and how can I say it? Whether that form is a sonnet or a rap song… ultimately it’s just ways to communicate.”

And with the release of his album and book of poetry, there is much that Nate Marshall wants to communicate about his thoughts on home and creativity on the margins. And we can’t wait to hear what he has to say.