An American artist / writer / photographer and videomaker currently based in Singapore, Stephen has published a book of photographs as well as several ebooks. His experiences in the sometimes intersecting worlds of art and media include working as a Director of Photography in Okinawa for legendary Japanese actress Kumiko Akiyoshi’s film directorial debut, assisting Annie Leibovitz on photographic shoots throughout Tokyo, arranging for Stelarc and his Prosthetic Head to perform at an exhibition in Singapore and co-writing a text piece about memory, success and architecture with artist Michael Lee for Michael’s installation at the 2012 Singapore Biennale. Stephen has written, produced, and / or directed promos and videos for companies like CNN, Cartoon Network, France 2, Fox and Fuji TV. He has managed and art-directed the creation of a 3D gamemaking software, documented Kazuo Ono and other renowned butoh artists and twice produced tours of Hong Kong for the Sadato band.
Novelist Xu Xi, shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Asia Prize for Literature, said of Bus Stopping, Stephen’s book of photographs, that it was created with “a spontaneous, studied and ever eloquent eye”. Describing the 2011 novel, Contact With Shadow, 2008 Singapore literature winner Ng Yi-Sheng, wrote, “It’s a double pleasure to read this wonderful scrapbook of historical facts, metafictions and photographs. First, there’s the joy of gleaning nuggets of knowledge about Singapore and the printed word hitherto unknown; and second, there’s the childlike wonder of never knowing what Stephen Black has in store for us on the next page.”
Stephen’s latest project combines social media, the President of the United States and crowdsourcing. Translation: Stephen’s ebook entitled Obama Search Words is trying to become unglued. And now for a translation of that translation…
There is a group of people who believe certain ebooks should be free to all who want them. They also believe that the authors should be compensated fairly for this to happen. The group is called gluejar.
For the author to receive the amount of money he requires in order to release the ebook glue jar conducts a crowdsourcing campaign. Crowdsourcing is a system in which supporters of a project pledge money so that it can become reality. When the crowdsourcing campaign raises the financial target within the fixed time, the project can begin. Glue jar uses crowdsourcing to “liberate” ebooks so that they can be shared freely by anyone, on any device. They call their system ungluing an ebook.
Stephen‘s ebook, Obama Search Words, is now in a campaign to become unglued.
Obama Search Words was originally going to be a portrait of Senator Obama, using food to learn about his life. Biographical portraits and literary still lifes would have been created based on Obama’s African father, his 3 year stay in Indonesia, his Hawaiian childhood and his long residency in Chicago… afew recipes would have been included.
So Stephen made a trip to Jakarta, where he met neighbors, classmates, teachers and friends of Obama. This was well before Obama had defeated Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic Party Presidential candidate. Obama was almost completely unknown by most people; a policeman mistakenly gave him the full tour of house he thought Obama had lived in—the actual former residence was blocks away.
After Jakarta, the author went to Chicago. There he ate and researched soul food and a McDonald’s where, in his early years, Obama had met people while he was working in social services.
Then of course, things happened. The subject of the book Stephen was writing stepped onto the path to the Presidency. Food no longer seemed appropriate and Stephen began researching more broadly and thinking more deeply.
The final result, Obama Search Words, is a collection of facts, fact-based fiction, photographs and artworks that touch upon a range of subjects. From Civil Rights to Hawaiian leis to English lessons in Jakarta and much more, all of the essays shed a unique light on the man who became the 44th President of the United States.
And now from the author himself…
Why I Write
Air Supply are a couple of Australian men who have written some very popular songs. On youtube they smile and/or look forlorn as they sing about being “all out of love.” For their “Making love out of nothing at all” music video they show us a painful romantic breakup, windblown 70’s hair and a private jet! The logo of Air Supply looks like Coke’s. I never drink Coke.
Air Supply is being displayed on the mobile phone on the table in front of me. The table is covered with roasted beans, Thai food and Tiger beer bottles. Buckley is using Bluetooth to wirelessly transfer Air Supply songs to another guy’s phone. This makes me smile. I’m smiling because Buckley’s job is building underwater oil rigs. His life depends on long hoses filled with gases. Buckley’s air supply is a collection of pumps, canisters and gauges, all banged up and in the hands of recently hired strangers who try to communicate in English. Buckley and his team work in storms and they work when it’s dark. A good day is when the hoses don’t tangle, the jellyfish stay away, the current’s weak, the pumps work and the waves are predictable. A good day is like winning the lottery.
Buckley sees me looking at the two words glowing on his phone. He breaks into a big smile. “You like Air Supply! Great! Karaoke! Let’s go sing Air Supply!” He stands up on his stool and starts singing “Lonely is the Night.” These “Air Supply Moments” might be the reason I write.
A pudgy diver in an orange jumpsuit terribly crooning Air Supply songs in a crowded Singaporean food court on a Saturday night- I need to record this. I cannot be Spinoza, Paul Aster, Mishima, Henry Miller nor Margaret Atwood. But I can use words to freeze the flow of life around me.
I melt these frozen stacks of words, then freeze them again. Stack them again, melt them again. Stack, melt, freeze, stack, melt, freeze.
Shapeless. Hopeless, as I wait for a drop of knowledge. I’m beyond hopeless as a previsioned frail stream of story ideas disappears, leaving only the sights and sounds of this room.
A man is being given a tour of writers’ hell. Everywhere,writers are suffering in the great heat. Some pound their heads in frustration,some stare at blank pieces of paper. They look at their words as though they are reading their own death sentences. They are together, yet the writers are all alone. They do not speak, but the room is filled with screams of Agony. The man is next taken to writers’ heaven. He thinks a mistake has been made, for he sees nearly the same tortuous scenario that he saw in writers’ hell. He questions his guide. “No sir, this is definitely writers’ heaven,” the guide explains, “but these writers get published.”
So, why do I write? One reason may be to ‘make conceptual, postmodern text-based art’ of the very small intersections that exist between ‘words’ ,what ‘words’ actually are, and what ‘words’ represent. Another reason could be that I am simply “too lazy to work, too chicken to steal.”
My father was a book salesman and this could be another reason. But I really don’t think that I am writing to please him. If I wanted to please my family- and other people, I would think of a better way of earning money. The truth is I write without thinking about why I write. Writing happens to me. If I were a clever, well-educated writer, I would now conclude with some sort of witty wordplay (possibly Shakespearean) comparing my need to write with a diver’s need of an air supply. But I am not a clever writer. I’m just a guy who fails to understand life. I spend days and nights rearranging words to disguise this tragedy, suffocating as I try to make it pretty to read.
Thank you, Stephen. You can find more about Stephen and his writing via…
The campaign to unglue Obama, Obama Search Words on Amazon, The Riverwalk Session by 3how (music by Stephen’s band), Furikake, Contact With Shadow, and The Changi Murals (Stephen’s acting debut). Stephen will return guest blogging on 9th August to talk more about Unglue and his project on the site.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with non-fiction and short story author Allan Douglas – the four hundred and twenty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.