Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre is an MC, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist and educator. His work explores the relationships between identity, power, and resistance, and has been featured on Upworthy, Welcome to Night Vale, Everyday Feminism, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, and beyond. Garnering over ten million views online, Guante has also performed live at the United Nations, given a TedxTalk, and presented at countless colleges, universities, and conferences. Whether deconstructing traditional notions of masculinity, challenging dominant narratives related to race and racism, or just telling stories about the different jobs he’s had, Guante strives to cultivate a deeper, more critical engagement with social justice issues, one based in both empathy and agency. An educator as well as a performing artist, Guante completed his Masters studies in 2016 at the University of Minnesota with a focus on spoken word, critical pedagogy, and social justice education; in that spirit, his performances use poems as jumping-off points for authentic dialogue, critical thinking, and community-building. Please enjoy my interview with Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre.
How do you describe your occupation?
I have a poem built around the line “when my girlfriend’s parents ask me what I do for a living…” because it’s been such a challenging thing for me to figure out how to talk about. I’m a poet, I guess, but I’d say that my work is much more about using poetry to create space for critical thinking and dialogue; the poems are entry points, and while half my work is writing and performing those poems, the other half is more focused on pedagogy and facilitating the conversations that follow.
Talk us through a typical day for you…
I’m not sure that I have typical days. Some days, I’m in a high school, guest-teaching multiple classes, where we write, share and build with one another. Other days, I’m in a college, working with (for example) a group of young men on thinking more critically about masculinity and gender violence prevention. Other days, I’m helping to organize spaces for youth poets to share their work, build community with one another, and reach the people who need to hear their perspectives. Still other days, I’m at home, trying to create new work and/or clear out my inbox. I think part of being a poet in 2018 is that a lot of us wear multiple hats like this.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I’m finishing up Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This has been on my to-read list for a while because I love work that isn’t afraid to engage with real issues, while simultaneously being super weird and boundary-pushing. Speculative fiction with a social justice angle—when it’s done well, as it is in this book—is electrifying.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
I wish I could remember. I’m sure I read books before this, but the earliest I can distinctly remember is probably The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
I absolutely am a bookmark-user.
When did you fall in love with reading?
My grandmother was a 2nd-grade teacher, so I remember being surrounded by books—especially children’s books—from a very young age. I do remember being read to, which I’m sure was a big part of that process.
If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?
I like this question because it includes room for us to cheat, picking books that didn’t exist when we were that age. I’d love to be 16 and read the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin. I’d imagine that 16 year-old me would love the story, setting, and characters, but could also be challenged by some of the bigger ideas. I don’t think I really developed my politics until my 20s, and I’m wondering how fiction like the Broken Earth series might open up new possibilities for me.
At 25, I’d probably pick some poetry books, like Whorled by Ed Bok Lee, Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, and Sông I Sing by Bao Phi (among many more), just because by that age, I was definitely surrounded by poets, and writing a lot of poetry, but honestly wasn’t reading as much as I should have been. I’ve found that this is true for a lot of young poets—we’re so excited by the possibilities of being a poet and creating something cool, we tend to forget the central importance of reading, reading, reading. I definitely had to learn that.
What are perfect reading conditions for you?
I can’t multitask with books, so I need complete silence, with as few distractions as possible. I tend to read a lot on airplanes, where I know I have three or four hours with nothing else to do and can really sink into a book.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
Here are three:
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang is maybe the best introduction to Hip Hop history and culture available. I think that even poets and writers who don’t consider their work explicitly Hip Hop could benefit from the book’s exploration of the connections between policy and culture—how the two drive one another, in both positive and negative ways.
Similarly, I realize that not all artists consider themselves educators, but I think that understanding critical pedagogy can definitely be useful for artists, as we think about how our work “lives” in the world, what kind of relationship we’re building with our audience, and beyond. So, while I want to say Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire here, I might throw a curveball and go with Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy Of Love by Antonia Darder, which is potentially a more approachable introduction to both Freire’s work and how that work is so relevant and applicable to our world today. “Accessible” is a word with a lot of baggage, and while I’d absolutely recommend that everyone read the book that this book is exploring, I just think that in this case, there’s some value in starting with the analysis and then working backwards into the primary text.
Finally, I suppose I should include at least one poetry book. I mentioned it before, but of all the books I’ve read, I might go with Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith here. I don’t think that it’s her biggest or most well-known work, but it’s so specific, both in its language and its subject matter, and that specificity manages to unearth something that, for me, gets to the very core of what poetry is all about.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
I hope this isn’t a cop-out answer but I have to be honest; I am a terribly introverted person and would not enjoy a dinner party with anyone, even (maybe especially) my 5 favorite authors.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
I believe it was the second volume of Monstress written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by Sana Takeda. I’m a big graphic novel reader, and Monstress is pretty much everything that I look for in graphic fiction—it’s lush and dynamic on the page, while its ideas are dark, compelling, and grounded.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
I think reading gives us space to process. While reading, you don’t have to have all the answers or be in control of what happens next. You get to just sit with yourself and think.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
It took me a while, but I read all of Alan Moore’s epic Jerusalem earlier this year. Moore is best known for his comics work (like the classic Watchmen), but this was something very different—a thousand pages of dense, arguably over-written (but still breath-taking) prose, all as a kind of elegy/memorial/tribute to his hometown, Northampton. I didn’t love all of it, but the good parts were as good as anything I’ve ever read; if people are interested in big ideas like time, death, reality, etc., it’s a mind-bending journey.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
This is a weird answer since it’s a decidedly dystopian book, but I’m choosing Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For me, there’s just something endlessly compelling about exploring a terrible post-apocalyptic hellscape with a band of roving actors and musicians. So many of these kinds of books focus on soldiers, warriors, and heroes; I love that this one used artists.
This may not be the most creative or outside-the-box response, but I have to go with A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It doesn’t say everything it could, and it isn’t perfect, but I feel like it’s about as good a start as one can get down the path of rethinking the narrative of this country. Even for people outside the US, there’s something valuable in the central project or “hook” of the book—its explicit focus on counter-narrative is something so vital right now.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
I distinctly remember reading Cane by Jean Toomer in college, and being struck by its structure, its lyricism, and especially by its bending of genre. That last point seems like a minor thing now, something everyone does, but Cane really was the first time that this idea—that you can make your own rules in the service of whatever work your writing is trying to do—really “clicked” for me.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
It’s always fun to share the wealth, so to speak, and give some recommendations. The last three books that really moved me were A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith.
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
The next book on my to-read list is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, which I received as a gift. I’m excited because while I know about some of the story around the book, its author, and its upcoming TV adaptation, I know nothing about the narrative itself. It’s always nice to be able to enter into a story unspoiled.
If you’d like to learn more about Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, you can find him on his website, Facebook and Twitter.
Image credit: Elliot Malcolm