Why I Write – Aimee Baker

Why I Write – Aimee Baker

Aimee Baker 2

Why do I write?

Because it can take less than ten seconds for a woman walking alone along a quiet stretch of sidewalk to be physically forced from her path and shoved into the dark maw of a car trunk.

Because there was once a young woman who was pushed from the backseat of a speeding car into the dust and dirt along the I-10, the hulking body of Phoenix in the distance behind her. The woman had a blue heart tattoo etched into her chest and, if you only look at the right side of her morgue photos, you could believe she is only closing her eyes for a moment.

Because on early mornings waiting for the bus to take me to school my brother would stand close so I could hear him when he whispered that he wanted to kill me. His breath puffed into the cold air and across my face when he said he wanted to rip my intestines from my body. Wanted to hold my heart in his hands.

Because Gary Ridgway killed 49 women. Because Ted Bundy killed 35 women. Because Robert Hansen killed 15 women.

Because in rural Idaho a boy tells a classmate he wants to “kill all the girls.”

Because my Correction Officer student laughs when he tells me that at Clinton Correctional John Jamelske’s name is Bunker Bob. “But I don’t know why,” he adds. I want to say that it’s because over the course of ten years Jamelske kidnapped and raped women, imprisoning them in a concrete bunker buried in his yard. Instead, I remain silent, the words caught in my chest.

Because inside Clinton Correctional with Jamelske is Julio González who killed 87 people at the Happy Land club after his ex-girlfriend said she didn’t want to be with him anymore.

Because once, long ago, a young woman rode her bicycle along the edge of the desert, her legs pumping in time to the music playing through her headphones.

Because a polaroid is found in a Florida parking lot. In it, a woman and young boy are bound in the back of a van with their hands behind them, black tape covering their mouths. By her thigh the book My Sweet Audrina, a favorite of the woman who rode her bike along the edge of the desert the year before. The year she disappeared.

Because a teacher once stopped me in the hallways of my high school. Gripping my forearm tight with her hand she leaned forward and asked me to stop writing about violence. “Have you thought about writing something nice?” she implored.

I write because now you know it takes less than ten seconds to disappear.


Why I Write – D. Gilson

Why I Write – D. Gilson


Ars Poetica

Tuesday and I’m texting to ask:
Do you remember the movie Rushmore?
(1998, Wes Anderson, Dir.) and no,
you don’t and no, it’s been a busy
morning so we’ll have to talk later. Thursday
and later, like Christ, hasn’t come,
so I’m writing you this poem because the thing
I wanted to ask was, Do you remember
what Max finds in that library book
in Rushmore? When one man, for whatever
reason, has the opportunity to lead
an extraordinary life, he has no right
to keep it to himself. That’s Grade A bullshit,
maybe, but how can I tell someone even
though you don’t, I think you are extraordinary?
You know, extraordinary like a library book,
like the one on my desk from the Gelman Library
that hasn’t been checked out since 1978.
Can you imagine? What is the book about?
It doesn’t matter. (Shakespeare and agnostic
comedy) But it seems astonishing, does it not,
that I am the only person to check out
this book in almost forty years! And
here is a list of the things I could do
instead of write a poem for you:

  1. Learn to knit, finally.
  2. Write my dissertation.
  3. Call my mother.
  4. Send a messenger pigeon.
  5. Clean the bathroom.

That’s not exactly fair. Nine out of ten
poems I write, probably more, are not for you.
So I’m thinking of number four, the pigeon,
an idea I got from Rushmore,
which you don’t remember, and which
I would tell you about if you’d pick up
the phone, or maybe it’s better to write
you this poem (thesis: our lives
are extraordinary, even though you
haven’t thought that for three months). Yes,
here is a poem about a movie
which, the one out of ten, I wrote for you.

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015


Tonight, I attended my first Transgender Day of Remembrance event in Charleston.  The service was sorrowfully beautiful.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the speech made by my friend, Chase Glenn, during the service:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Thank you for being here tonight.  For showing up.  For taking time to pause and remember those trans men and women we have lost this year. 

If you’re here tonight, you probably already know that this year has been the deadliest on record for our transgender community.  More trans folks were killed in the first 6 months of this year than were killed in all of 2014.  Violence against the trans and gender non-conforming community is at epidemic levels.  21 transgender people were reported to have been murdered this year in the U.S. alone.  For trans women of color, the situation is particularly dire.  1 in 8 trans women of color will be murdered.  1 in 8.

Where is the public outcry?  Where is the mainstream media?  Why is this not on the front page of every paper and the leading story on every news channel? 

In a time when fear-mongering politics run amuck…. Where countless hours and facebook posts and tweets are given to spewing fear…. Fear of people who are different than us, fear of having our guns taken away, fear of others coming here from other countries…. 

Yet who is concerned for those transgender people who fear for their lives every day– when simply leaving their homes?  Who is using their voices, their influence, their social media platforms and relationships to stand up for trans people?  Some of you are in this room tonight.

Now is the time.  Now is the time to stand up.

Many of us in the transgender community carried the baton for marriage equality for years.  We put thousands of hours into the fight and we celebrated alongside our gay, lesbian and bisexual community when they were given the right to marry those they love.  And now is time for those same LGB brothers and sisters to pick up that baton and fight the fight for our trans community.  For the very lives of trans men and women.

We will continue to fight for ourselves.  We will continue to stand up for our own rights, but it is imperative that our cisgender friends and family stand up on our behalf.

You may be wondering what someone like you can do:

  • Educate yourself and begin to educate those around you.
  • Fight for safe spaces for transgender people.  Support the addition of gender neutral restrooms in all public places.  Including schools where our trans students are struggling every day.
  • When transphobic jokes are made—often times by unassuming people who consider themselves liberal and progressive—stand up for trans people.  Help them understand why these jokes are not okay.
  • Fight to ensure that gender identity is ALWAYS included in non-discrimination legislation.  
  • Get to know a transgender person.  Listen to their story.  Don’t automatically try to normalize their experience—saying things like….  I know exactly how you feel.  Because you don’t.  While everyone has their struggles and anxieties and fears, the experience of a trans person is unique and their fears of violence, abuse, homelessness, being fired from their jobs and rejected by their families is fueled by real life experiences.  
  • And finally….  Show up.  Like you did here tonight.  

Remember those whose lives have been cut short.  Say her name.  Say his name.  Say their names.

May their memories be a blessing.  May their memories be a call to action.  And may they rest in peace and rest in power.

Interview with Lambda Award Winner Valerie Wetlaufer

authorphotocolorI am excited to present to the blogosphere my interview with Valerie Wetlaufer, author of Mysterious Acts by My People (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014).  This is part one of a two part interview with Valeria; the interview started on June 2. Enjoy!

DB:  Congratulations on your Lambda Literary Award win in the category of Lesbian Poetry for Mysterious Acts by My People (Sibling Rivalry Press)! How are you feeling the morning after your win?

VW: Thank you! Honestly, I’m still in shock. I had to get up at 5am to take the dog out, and I kept checking my phone, rereading the texts that alerted me to the fact that I won. Was this a dream? Did that really happen? I feel so incredibly honored. This is something I’ve wanted since I first started writing poetry, but it’s hard to believe it’s real.

DB:  Tell us about the experience of discovering your win.  Where were you? Who told you? Who was the first person you told? Spare no detail. Inquiring minds want to know. 

VW: I had just gotten to my parents house, where I was having dinner after a day spent at the dentist. I was sort of groggy and out of it. I knew someone would livetweet the Lammy’s, so I figured I’d follow along throughout the course of the night. I went to check my phone, not sure if anything would even be posted yet, as the ceremony had just begun. Before I could even open Twitter, my good friend and fellow nominee Meg Day started texting me congratulatory messages. I said sort of casually to my parents, “Oh. I won.” Still not totally believing it, I went to Twitter to find confirmation, and sure enough, people were reporting me as the winner. My parents were screaming in joy, congratulating me, pouring drinks, and I just sat there kind of stunned. I didn’t expect to win, because all the nominees are so incredibly talented. I’ve read all their books, and I didn’t envy the judges having to choose a winner from the bunch. My parents, at this point noting my stunned silence, asked me why I wasn’t happier about it, and I told them I was just in disbelief. Honestly, my mouth really hurt from the dentist, and I was feeling pretty hungry, because I hadn’t eaten lunch, being numbed up from dental surgery. Then my editor, Bryan Borland called from Little Rock, and that helped it sink in. He said a lot of very sweet, encouraging things, and I started to believe I’d really won. My best friend from college, the novelist Chandler Klang Smith phoned. “Did you just win the Lammy?” she asked, having seen a post someone made on Facebook. “Yeah, I guess I did!” She congratulated me, and recalled how I talked about someday wanting to win when I was still a baby poet in college. That made me tear up a little, because it’s true; since I started writing poetry, this was a dream of mine, but I thought it would be a long way off. My parents were especially happy for me, and I’m glad I was with them to celebrate. They’ve given me unconditional love and support, and I’m so grateful for that. Since last night, I have been blessed with so many kind words and texts, calls, tweets, likes and posts. I had to turn my phone off so I could get some sleep last night, which is a nice problem to have. I feel very somber, to be honest. For over a decade, every year, I’ve read the books of the finalists for gay and lesbian poetry. That was one of the main ways I discovered new poets to read and connect with through the pages, and I think the prominence of Lambda does help young queer kids find connection and community. To think that someone might now find my book and it might mean something to them, help them feel less alone as a lonely Midwestern rural queer kid, that is an enormous honor.

DB:  Would you share part of your journey from as you say, “baby poet,” to Valerie Wetlaufer, Lammy winner?  As in, how have you seen your work change over the years?  Who are writers whose work you’ve kept close or whose work has pushed or inspired you?  Is there a close circle of friends who serve as your rock?

VW: I think that my idea of what poetry can contain has expanded. I used to have an idea that poems all had to be about large, lofty things, but the more I’ve read, the more I realize there is room for everything, even the grotesque everyday in a poem. In 2010, I challenged myself to write a poem a day, which I’ve continued to do on and off over the years, and it welcomed those smaller details of life into my work. The monotony of trying to come up with something new each morning also led me to get weirder in my words. Many of these daily poems from 2010 are in Mysterious Acts. For about a decade, I worked on two projects concurrently. The book-length novel in verse that is my second book, to be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016, and the poems not in that project that were collected in my first book. I have spent so long with both of these books that I’m still figuring out what I’m writing next. I’ve been quite lucky to spend time in graduate creative writing programs where I got to work with brilliant professors and talented peers, who all introduced me to new realms of poetry I wasn’t previously familiar with. I’ll always come back to Thomas James, one of the first poets I studied deeply, and I never tire of reading Lucie Brock-Broido’s poetry. What most gets me to my desk to write, though, is the inspiring work of my peers. Rebecca Lehmann is a brilliant poet, and her work galvanizes me to create, too, which is always a mark of talent, in my opinion. Barbara Duffey has this effect on me as well. He poems are like picking up a situation and turning it around to look at it in a completely different way than I previously would have done. Throughout my writing career, I’ve had a variety of groups I worked with, especially at Bennington College and Florida State. My best writing buddy, who always encourages me, is fiction writer Chandler Klang Smith. We met at Bennington, and have remained close ever since. She’s always the first person to remind me that if I’m not happy, it’s because I’m not writing.

DBAre you able to share any details about your second collection forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press?  Title?  Topic?

VW:  Yes! The collection is entitled Call Me by My Other Name. It is basically a novel in verse about a queer couple in the Midwest in the late-19th century, based on historical documents. Two people, both assigned female at birth, lived together as husband and wife, and it was discovered when the masculine partner was arrested and jailed. This really happened. Of course labels are anachronistic, but the book explores issues of gender and sexuality and weaves the stories of Frank and Gertrude together alongside a more contemporary lyrical narrative about equal marriage rights in the US and the difficulty of marriage. I worked on it for about a decade at the same time as I was writing Mysterious Acts. It’s really the book I was focused on the most, but then it wasn’t getting picked up anywhere, and I kept working on it, kept revising it, and eventually it was accepted at SRP.

DB: I don’t want to stray too far from Mysterious Acts, but you’ve piqued my curiosity.  Can you share why the person was arrested and jailed, or will it give too much away?

VW: Not much is known, but they were arrested for stealing some money. During that time period, there was an economic depression, and I imagine things were tough to find work for two people who were read as women. I explore these issues a lot in the book.

DB:  Thank you for sharing. Denise Duhamel once said that she believes poets write from a deep wound.  In 2009, she elaborated on the comment: “But what I mean is I believe that there is some wound (early perhaps?) from which many poets write.  This is not a scientific fact by a long shot, and I believe this to be true from anecdotal experience.  Why else would we write poems?  (Many poets would disagree with me….”).  What are your thoughts on the topic?

VW: That’s a great quote. While I’ve been enormously privileged in my life, I have always felt like an outsider. There were so many ways in which I never fit in, and writing became the primary way I sought to make space for myself in the world. Books became my friends, my community. I’ve had family members ask why I can’t write happy poems, and I’d argue that I do and have written happy and even funny poems, but it is true that in many ways the best poems anyone writes are those poems that seek to express some kind of pain, particularly trauma. So I’d have to agree with Duhamel.

DB: Let’s talk about Mysterious Acts by My People.   If I may, I’d like to ask about the dedications.  Your book is dedicated to Elizabeth Huddleson, JaNeill Weseloh, and Laura Hershey.  Are you comfortable talking about the reasons behind the dedications?

VW: Sure. Liz, JaNeill, and Laura were all very important people to me at different times in my life, and they all died far too soon. Their deaths affected me profoundly and I wanted to honor them in whatever way I could. Liz was a friend from childhood who died in college from meningitis. She was one of my closest friends when I was young, and always supportive of my writing. JaNeill was a close friend of mine from college and also a writer. She committed suicide the summer after graduation. We were in a writing group together at Bennington, and when I started my MFA, her death loomed huge in my life. Laura was an incredible poet and disability rights activist I met when we were both Lambda Fellows in 2010. We kept in touch and helped one another with our writing until shortly before her death. Though I didn’t know her for long, she had a profound affect on me, and her friendship meant a great deal. Many of the poems in Mysterious Acts were revised with her guidance at Lambda. I was lucky enough to publish her work in the first issue of Adrienne, thanks to her partner Robin’s assistance.

DB:  I remember when we first met.  We don’t have to admit how many years ago that was in West Palm Beach.  I recall you raving about Mark Wunderlich.  You admired him.  If my memory serves me correct, Wunderlich was a mentor to you while in school. How did it feel when he agreed to blurb Mysterious Acts?  What was your reaction when you first read his blurb?

VW: Mark was my first poetry professor, and he has always been very supportive of my work. I was so grateful to him for taking the time to write in support of my book. It’s always illuminating to discover what other people think of your work, but especially so when it’s someone you really admire. I remember feeling very gratified that what I was aiming for came across to a poet whose own work I respect so much.


& it’s a wrap for part one of my interview with the talented Valerie Wetlaufer. Do you have a question or two for Valerie? If so, email your questions to dustinvbrookshire@gmail.com; please include your name and city/state of residence. Your question may be answered by Valerie in part two of our interview.

WHY I WRITE – Bryan Borland

Why I Write – Bryan Borland 


Though I always wrote, somewhere along the way, my studies turned more toward publishing than craft. This was out of necessity. When I founded Sibling Rivalry Press, I legally contracted myself to be a publisher. When the press became a reality, I had writers to represent other than myself. Instead of spending time understanding why Adrienne Rich often used spacing rather than punctuation or why Merwin used no punctuation at all and what these things did to the rhythm and voice of their poems, I had to learn the proper discount to give to independent bookstores versus college bookstores, to understand credit adjustments when books are returned, and to proofread until my vision was blurred. I went along with this happily. My poets broke through. I published the first chapbooks of Ocean Vuong and Saeed Jones. My journal of gay poetry, Assaracus, was recognized as a “Best New Magazine” from Library Journal. Stephen S. Mills won the Lambda Literary Award. Megan Volpert got us noticed by Andy Warhol’s people. Sibling Rivalry Press was established. And I was suddenly established as a publisher. Nagging at me, though, was the fact that, in my mind, though I had two books to my credit, two books of which I’m absolutely proud, I’d yet to establish myself, at least in my own mind, as a poet.

Then something unexpected happened. I fell in love with someone who loved poetry as much as I wanted to love poetry. For the first year of my relationship with my now-husband, he was in his final year of an undergraduate writing program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Like any program, be it undergraduate or postgraduate, the quality of the program comes from the quality of the teachers within that program. My husband was fortunate enough to study under poet Nickole Brown, who, for her most advance students, ran her undergraduate program as if it were an MFA. The result was that I got a taste of the beauty and best of academia and of a real writing program, something I’d been hesitant or unable to explore. I did the writing exercises and studied the poets alongside my husband. I became a student.

The result is that as I fell deeper into love with the man I would marry (at AWP in Boston, no less), I feel deeper in love with poetry as an art and as a craft. This all began an intense study of poetry, one that I’ve now learned to balance with running the press. One that continues daily.

All this has culminated in a manuscript-in-progress that will become my third book of poetry. The working title is God In Reverse, which, of course makes everyone think of the word dog. I’m fine with that, as my husband came into my life fully-equipped with a blue-healer-mix rescue pup named Remy. But the title comes from a line in the second poem of the manuscript, “Poetry.” When I’m asked to speak to students about poetry (and often these aren’t writing students or English students or poetry students), I have a series of descriptions of what I think poetry is, the noun of it and the verb of it (because trust me, marry a poet and “poeming” becomes a verb). After giving the spiel and my definitions a few times, my standard explanation began sounding like a poem. I tell them, “Think about–not your first kiss, but your second. The heaven-faced anticipation because now you know what hunger tastes like in another mouth.” I tell them poetry is like a reverse prayer. It’s directing your energy, your thoughts to something specific that poetry, that the power of poetry, can create and hold up or make tangible. Think about that second kiss. Those lips. It’s a prayer to those lips. It’s a prayer to the torso. It’s god in reverse.

The poems are also about what I think of as the reverse of the god I was taught about as a child in my hellfire and brimstone Southern Baptist church. That god was so separate, so harsh, so other and unavailable. And yet so structured, I mean in a limiting sense. In a way, there is a parallel between that description and how it was taught to me in early schooling: poetry as separate, harsh, other, and unavailable. The reverse, then, is something that’s inclusive and inviting, that’s lovely, that’s all around us and available. It’s inward. It’s here. It’s the now.

So why do I write? Ten years ago I would have said I wrote because I had to. I had no other choice. It saved my life. Now, I write because I want to. Because I’m in love with poetry, what it is and what it can be. Because I see my gods in poetry. I write to go to my church.

“The name Sue underwhelms me.”

Get excited!  I’m sharing a poem from David Herrle‘s forthcoming collection of poetry, Sharon Tate and the Daughters of JoyI’ve pre-ordered my.  Be good to yourself; order a copy too.  Give “A Girl Named Sue” a read, and check back in a few weeks for an interview with David.

A Girl Named Sue

The name Sue underwhelms me. Put some lipstick on it
and make it Susan or even Suzanne, then I’m partly
wooed, for I find deep importance in a female’s name,
believe that it predestines her looks-wise, or at least
augurs a cute-proneness, shapes the coming woman
as perpetual water sculpts mountains and hews canyons.

Margarita Carmen Cansino shaped a Rita Hayworth,
a Cleopatra Thea Philopator seduced imperial Rome.
Plain Joan Lucille became platinum Mamie Van Doren,
Lulamae Barnes was dyed and reborn as Holly Golightly.

Charmed names beautify so-so physiques and faces while
fair faces redeem drab or marmish names after the fact,
veto their givens’ ominous sonorouslessness or tendency
toward plainness (“Sharon” and Mary” are a dime a dozen
but “Jane” is far from plain) and imprint them as mighty
beasts leave traces on soft land (pre-Marilyn Norma Jean,
singer Harriet Wheeler, painter Whistler’s Maud) — like Princess
Margaret and Ann-Margret, unlike poor Margaret Fuller.

Sue Lyon of Lolita fame triumphed against heinous Suellyn,
Quixote’s “Dulcinea del Toboso” turned a peasant into a queen.
Just one k added to “Ivana” birthed the fairer Ivanka Trump,
and cries of “La Esmeralda!” ring to drown Notre Dame’s bells.

Augustus, Augustine, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Elvis, David:
these sing to me, but names glow only when emasculated,
ovaryly sugared, Candy Darlinged and drag-queened by
Aubrey Beardsley — then there are females cross-dressed in
male names (painter Schiele’s Wally Neuzil) and abracadabras
that crack clouds when chanted in full bloom: Anais Nin becomes
Angela Anais Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell.

Incant: Lola Falana, Leonor Fini, Zhang Ziyi, Dree Hemingway, Aaliyah!
Gina Lollobrigida, Artemisia Gentileshi, Rihanna Fenty, Sussudio!

Familial iterations of gender-neutral “Drew” forged Drew Barrymore.
My anthroponomastic case rests on Dakota Fanning and January Jones.


Rinker Sets Sights on Unseating Archibong: An Interview


Dustin:  Council Member Natalyn Mosby Archibong has represented Council District 5 since 2001.  In Georgia, it has proven difficult to beat incumbents.  An AJC article from December 2012 sites, “Incumbents defeated challengers in 71 percent of this year’s races [2012]…”  There is that old cliché that says if it isn’t broken then you shouldn’t fix it.  I’m going to assume you’re running for office because you either want the glory of office or you think something is broken.  Why are you running?  Is something broken?  How will you defy the 71%?

Matt:  I made the decision to run for Atlanta City Council after a lot of thought, and after talking to a large number of family members, friends, neighbors and local business owners. Deciding to run for office is no small thing – and it’s a decision I didn’t take lightly.

But I’ve lived in Atlanta for over 10 years, and I know firsthand what a great place it is to live, work and raise a family. I’m proud to call Atlanta my home. But I know we can be doing better. We all know we can be doing better. We see it on the news every night, and we read it in the newspapers every day. There are plenty of things we, as a city, do well – but there are just as many things we could be doing better. And most of them are directly impacted by who we elect to represent our neighborhoods in local office.

Too often long-term incumbent politicians spend money on projects that don’t create new jobs, make our neighborhoods safer, or our schools better. In District Five, which covers part of Downtown and the neighborhoods of East Lake, East Atlanta, Glenwood Park, Kirkwood, Lake Claire, Reynoldstown, and Cabbagetown has seen very little in terms of growth over the past few years.  We have great areas with empty storefronts.  Atlanta has always been the economic engine that drove the rest of Georgia, but if each individual elected official isn’t fighting every single day to bring more good companies with good jobs and good benefits, they we are losing out. We need someone who will make creating jobs and bettering our neighborhoods priority one. And right now we don’t have that.

On a more personal level I’m running against Councilwoman Archibong because she voted against the Atlanta Beltline. Something that was supported by a huge number of families and businesses in our district, and our elected official said “no.”

Natalyn Archibong told our neighbors and local families and businesses that she thought they had no right to vote on Sunday Alcohol sales. Regardless of where you stand on that issue, having your voice on City Council say you shouldn’t have a voice on such an important issue doesn’t sit well with me.

Natalyn Archibong also voted for the new Falcons Stadium after telling constituents the same day that she didn’t have enough information to make a decision.  Voters in District Five have had no choice for the past 12 years.  Now they do.

Dustin:  Did you reach out to Councilwoman when she voted against the Beltline?  If so, what was her response?  And, what will you do to bring “good companies with good jobs and good benefits” into District 5?

Matt:  Ms. Archibong offered the reason that the project didn’t provide enough benefit to District Five.  The plan has the Beltline come through Glenwood Park and through Reynoldstown.  This gives a huge benefit to those two neighborhoods, but also makes easy access for East Atlanta, Cabbagetown and Edgewood.  A short bike ride or jog through those neighborhoods and you are on a trail headed to the Old Fourth Ward or at a festival in Piedmont Park and not sitting in traffic on the Connector.  Interestingly enough, her reason for voting against the Beltline – not providing benefit for the District – didn’t stop her from voting in favor of the new Falcons Stadium, which doesn’t provide any benefit for our District.

To bring quality jobs, we need to fix our continuing issues like transportation.  We have to have alternatives for people to get off the highways and allow for smart development in areas.  Putting incentives for development around MARTA stations, but then also making sure that people can utilize the bus system easily is a priority.  We have to encourage people to bike by adding designated bike lanes, and of course making sure that if someone wants to walk someplace that the sidewalk is actually walkable.  By making sure workers and shoppers can get to a business, it encourages growth and more businesses will do it.

Dustin:  Have you received the endorsement of any legislators from the Georgia General Assembly?  From organizations?  From neighborhood associations?  

Matt:  It’s still early in our race, but we have had serious discussions with multiple groups and individuals and we’ll be announcing some endorsements over the next few weeks.  Since I made my announcement, my main focus has been on meeting and listening to the residents in East Lake, Glenwood Park, Cabbagetown and throughout District Five to hear what issues they have and what they want from their voice on City Council.

Dustin:  Give us an executive overview of your community involvement for the last three years.    

Matt:  I have been actively involved with many organizations over my entire life, but some that I have focused my energy on over the last three years are CHRIS Kids, The Trevor Project, and Lost-n-Found Youth.  I have helped raise money, organized fundraising events, and attended meetings for these groups.  In addition, through my career, I have worked with the Atlanta Apartment Association’s annual canned food drive which benefits the Atlanta Community Food Bank and is one of the largest canned food drives in the nation.  I am also actively involved in ATLAS Bowling League, Go Kickball League, and Hotlanta Softball League.  With HSL, I have served as league Secretary for the past three years helping lead the almost 600 members and actively promoting charities with our fundraising efforts.  I am very proud of HSL and the work that our members do to help make our community a better place for LGBT youth.

Dustin:  Transportation, water, and education were three hot topics of 2012 for the City of Atlanta because all need improvement.  What role do you see the City Council playing to make sure there is improvement regarding these topics?  If elected, how do you see yourself in the quest to improve these for the City?

Matt:  This is a great example of our long-term incumbent politicians spending their time in committee meetings dealing with smaller issues, and ignoring the bigger issues. With the exception of the sewer repair and expansion in Atlanta over the last half of this decade, our in-town neighborhoods and businesses have largely been making due with infrastructure systems that were designed and implemented five decades ago. Of course we’re having issues now because we are a city of more than 3 million who come in and out of the city each day. But because these issues have been ignored for decades, it’s going to take years to fix them.

But here’s the good news. By electing a voice for our neighborhoods and local businesses who will fight every day to bring more good jobs, make our neighborhoods safer and our schools better, we can actually start to turn these issues around. It starts with having someone willing to address the problem, acknowledge it, and roll up their sleeves and help.

We need to encourage businesses and jobs to be created in local areas and around established transportation zones to help reduce some of our transportation headaches.  By offering incentives for business to locate around our existing MARTA stations and alternative transportation methods, we can encourage people to get off the highways and onto mass transit.  I am excited to see people utilizing the Beltline to get around and as we expand that network, we can expand options for transportation.

The Watershed Department still has a long way to go in order to be an efficient and well run department.  While some of the uproar has simmered, every day we continue to hear stories about unreal bills coming to residents.  There is a drastically slow response to repairs to water meters when they are identified as faulty.  I have heard from residents and businesses who tell me that the city has identified their meter as being faulty – either reading too high or too low – and yet months go by and the city does nothing to repair it.  We need a full and comprehensive audit of the Watershed Department and a serious, thoughtful plan on how to correct the issues that have been occurring for too long.

The Atlanta Public Schools are in crisis right now.  The cheating scandal put a dark cloud over our city and while the City Council has little say over it, I do feel that we must monitor the school system and support changes that will help the system rebound.  This year we have some new faces running to represent the school board districts that cover my city council district.  I have met or spoken with the candidates and the candidates I have spoken with are smart and insightful people.  I think with the selection of the new Superintendent and new voices on the School Board, the system will rebound.  My mom has been a teacher for 25 years so I know how important and thankless the job our teachers do every day.  I also know the value of a productive school board and school system.  I throw my full support behind our school teachers – they are underpaid and overworked, but are there because they know the value they are providing to our children.

Dustin:  MARTA is vital to the city of Atlanta.  Currently, there legislation in the Georgia Senate that would privatize MARTA.  What are your thoughts on the privatization of MARTA in regard to the city of Atlanta and specifically Council District 5?   (**Please note this question was presented while the GA General Assembly was in session.**) 

Matt:  Changes have to occur at MARTA in order for it to sustain itself but privatizing the agency is not the end-all-be-all answer.  The effort failed this year, but I suspect it will be back again.  MARTA needs to reorganize and try and streamline where it can, but they also be need free to utilize revenue in whatever manners the MARTA Board sees fit.  I think that on a local level, we need to work with MARTA in regards to zoning to help encourage growth of the system by both rail and bus.

Dustin:  Council Member Archibong sponsored legislation directing the City’s Chief Financial Officer to provide greater transparency in matters regarding the City’s financial standing.  This is definitely an accomplishment.  Do you feel enough work has been done in regard to transparency with the City’s financial records?    Do you have any plans to further the transparency movement?

Matt:  Transparency with our city government has been a long complained about issue – and the minor attempts to provide greater transparency has done little to help the average citizen navigate their way in getting information.  I do not feel that enough work has been done to make sure that citizens can easily find information – whether it be on financial standing or issues before City Council.  Council member Archibong’s own website hasn’t been updated for over four years – which be a great starting place for a citizen to get information.  I also feel annual audits need to be published of all City Council members expenditures as well as other departments within the City government.  As our world relies more and more on having information as close as a click of a mouse, our City needs to provide easy to read, easy to navigate information and resources to its citizens.

Matt:  As our next member of the Atlanta City Council, I will work hard to provide multiple avenues of information for every constituent, and believe that transparency is something you do every day – not just one bill that is passed. It means showing up to meetings, doing your homework, actually soliciting the opinions of families and businesses in District 5, not dodging difficult questions the day of an important vote, and understanding that the District 5 seat belongs to all of us – not one politician.

Dustin:  Recently, the City of Atlanta Parks Department changed its rule for festivals so that if a festival does not rent all facilities within the park area for their event then COA Parks has the authority to rent to any group to set up another event at the same time as long as they obtain a park rental permit.  Personally, this seems like the City is bullying people so it can make more money.  What are your thoughts on the change?     

Matt:  I am not specifically aware of the full policy regarding this change in Park policies, and the honest answer is I would need more detail. Having said that, festivals are a major source of economic development and a tourism magnet for Atlanta so we need to make the process as easy as possible while preserving and maintaining our parks. They bring in millions of dollars each year, and as our next member of the Atlanta City Council I would do whatever I could to support the festivals and our parks system.