Photography by Joana Meurkens
Interview by Carolina Meurkens
Taj E. M. Burroughs (he/him/his) is a Black queer actor, writer and all-around artist from Queens, New York. He is currently receiving his BFA in acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Taj recently was a part of AYE DEFY’S reading of Model Minority by Chloe Hung and is currently in the works of co-devising a show with his company members at MGSA, that will premiere early February. Taj talked to us about finding artistic inspiration through his familial lineage, writing from a place of yearning, and a desire to see more representation of larger queer Black bodies. Be sure to read his poetry “The Babel of My Yearning” published in Issue 5 and a suite of three poems published in Issue 6!
Tell us about yourself! Where were you born/ where did you grow up? What’s your cultural background?
Peace and Blessings! My name is Taj. I am a Black/Afro-Caribbean American and 21 years young. I am a Black queer artist hailing from the streets of Queens, specifically born in Jamaica (Queens) and practically raised in Flushing (Queens).
Tell us about your writing, how did you come to your craft? What drives your inspiration?
In my childhood, I was immersed in poetry and literature. I was raised amongst the sounds of recited poetry. I was fascinated by language. My parents read to me a lot as a child. They would read me children books, bible passages, poetry, etc. As a child I looked up to my father but I was also fearful of his strength. Being young I constantly looked at strength as hardness. At times, I would rummage through my father’s book of thoughts, songs and poetry and find tenderness. My grandfather, who was a writer and musician himself, would read me his works and we spoke about his dreams of publishing a book. We laughed about turning it into a movie and who we would cast as which character. Those are my most fond memories of him. My mother is a singer. My aunt is a dancer, my other aunt, an artist. I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life. So the expression of the soul told through artistic mediums was never foreign to me.
As I grew up, I wrote poems and short stories and streams of conscious thought. My first ever poem was titled, “My Mama Has A Dancin’ Heart”. I’ve always been heavily inspired by my family and the lessons they’ve taught me. And I will forever be grateful for those lessons. I wrote throughout my public school days and once I got to college I started taking writing a lot more seriously. At my previous institution, there was a gem of a woman in the Theater department. Her name is Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and I owe so much to her because of her undying support, her love for her craft and her students. She’s a phenomenal teacher, artist and woman and she has played a huge role in my writing career. Ultimately, experience is what drives my inspiration. I hope that doesn’t come off as narcissistic, but I take the famous “take your broken heart make it into art” to heart. The inspiration is driven by my need of healing.
“I find that my writing reflects a deep yearning for more. More life. More love. More peace. However, there’s also a sense of sensuality that co-exists with that yearning. I don’t really see a lot of bodies like mine who are given the platform or time of day to talk about what exactly goes on in their minds…”
How does your identity/ cultural heritage influence your writing?
My identity is truly how I navigate through the world. This heavily influences my writing. The experience of being Black, Queer and plus-sized within the conventional gaze has given me a lot to say. Over the years, I’ve grown into my voice due to the life in which I live. I find that my writing reflects a deep yearning for more. More life. More love. More peace. However, there’s also a sense of sensuality that co-exists with that yearning. I don’t really see a lot of bodies like mine who are given the platform or time of day to talk about what exactly goes on in their minds: heartbreak, the queer experience, beauty standards, body issues and the intersectionality of them all. The way I see love in its many forms is completely different from how what my best friend sees love. That’s why it’s so pivotal, I believe, to give these voices a place to be heard.
In regards to my cultural heritage, my poetry is doused in spirituality. Being raised in the church. I have a special connection with a higher being and anyone who reads my work can absolutely see that. When I think of it, I give the whole ‘sad boy’ aesthetic a place to call God.
Are there any themes that come up frequently in your work?
Definitely yearning. I tend to write with a question in mind. These questions hail from a place of deep want. Behind emotions that guard, there’s deep hurt. If you were to peel back someone who was confrontationally angry with you, there would be hurt behind that anger. My yearning is born from that place, constantly asking God or another body for needs such as love or a chance to be free and authentically me or for change. However, to write about these things, there has to be a deep-seated need for it because nothing will ignite my pen or my voice.
What do you hope the reader takes away from your work?
This question is a tough one for me. I try not to load expectations on the reader because I would feel responsible for not “doing my job” or bringing justice to feelings that ultimately belong to me. Though, some of it might be universal or shared. If I was to hope on something, it would have to be the feeling of being seen. As if someone were to look at you in your most wholesome and truthful self. I envision my poetry not only as an outlet for my artistry and spiritual/emotional life, but also to function as arms to hold the reader. When I read certain poems, the ones that affect me deeply make me feel like I’m being held. The writer conveys a safe space just by their language. There are works by some writers that I feel built homes for me. That’s something I strive to do with audiences who read my work.
“I believe my role in the Black Liberation Movement is to be just that…my Black ass-self. I’m writing about what’s in my heart and on my mind. While also being a vessel for my ancestors and my Black experience. Through my writing I’m loving Black people out loud, which is one face of my liberation.”
In your opinion, what is the role of writing/ storytelling in the Black Liberation Movement? What do you believe is your role?
Black Liberation in itself is shown by giving the Black voice a space to be heard and amplified. Audre Lorde said it best and we are actually “turning silence into language and action”. Blackness in it’s many shapes and forms is radical. Black love. Black death. Black joy. Blackness period. And when we read about it and recite it with our own voices that liberates. I believe my role in the Black Liberation Movement is to be just that…my Black ass-self. I’m writing about what’s in my heart and on my mind. While also being a vessel for my ancestors and my Black experience. Through my writing I’m loving Black people out loud, which is one face of my liberation. Being Black out loud (whatever that looks like to you) and being unapologetic and unbridled about it is, in fact, Black Liberation.
Is there anything else you wanna share!?
I just want to give thanks to God for all of the blessings. Give thanks to my parents and family for their undying love. Give thanks to my Grandfather and Grandmother. Give thanks to Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon. Give thanks to LagGag (Jay, Stanley, Joshua, Alani, Keaton, Devon, Joy…love yall!). Give thanks to JumpCity, Malcolm, Faith D. and thanks to my poetry gang from Temple University. Thank you Mixed Mag for giving my art this platform to be shared and seen. I want to make sure we honor all Black life not only this month but every single day. I especially want to honor and give thanks to Black trans womyn/women in all of their power and resilience, thank you. As my mama always tells me”strive for joy because that’s everlasting”. Peace and Blessings.
You can follow me on Instagram: @tajburroughs