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Rolanda D. Bell is an actress and singer from Oakland. Recently, she was featured as Nak in the film Blindspotting (created by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs). Outside of being very excited about this film, I was pleasantly shocked to see Bell, a plus-sized black woman, in an industry that tends to favor standard size, fair-skinned women of color. I had the opportunity to speak with Bell about what inspired her to start acting, the difference between working in theater verses working in film, and presentations of plus-sized black women in film. She will also appear in the Netflix film, All Day and a Night (created by the cowriter of Black Panther, Joe Robert Cole) coming Summer 2019. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Resonating Roles”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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Michael Andreasen’s first book, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, is one part Twilight Zone, a hint of Twin Peaks, with a dash of Booshian surrealism. Anchoring his short stories is one of my favorite sensibilities in film and literature: the extraordinary in the ordinary, whether that is making the banal fantastic or normalcy perverse. Below, Andreasen, graciously addresses some of the questions I had about Sea Beast, gearing up for his first book, and his inspiration.

More… “Sailing with Michael Andreasen”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Rafael Casal is a poet, rapper, producer, writer, and actor. Over the last ten years, he and his longtime friend and collaborator, Daveed Diggs, wrote, produced, and starred in their first film, Blindspotting. The story revolves around best friends Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) during the last three days of Collin’s probation. As the days progress, their friendship is strained by Oakland’s gentrification and the community’s perception of Collin after his conviction for a violent crime. Throughout the film, heightened verse is infused to showcase Oakland, the city’s natural facility for language, and Casal and Digg’s background in poetry and music. I had the opportunity to speak with Casal about comedy as a vehicle to tell stories about trauma, toxic masculinity, unconscious bias, and the stories missing from Hollywood’s mainstream. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “In Plain Sight”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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A feverish, drug-addled musician huddles on the floor of his room in Berlin, pecking out his first novel on a typewriter. He’s tormented by the protagonist he’s creating: a mute, misunderstood creature who expresses in violence what he’s unable to communicate in speech. At the same time, this Australian musician is inspired by the artful anarchy of the German bands around him. He abandons his own band, the influential post-punk group The Birthday Party. He seems intent on blowing up his life.

These are just a few of the scenes in Nick Cave: Mercy on Me, published September 19, 2017, in the U.S. A 300-page, black-and-white graphic novel about Nick Cave was never going to be a light read, but this is gripping stuff. More… “Have Mercy on Me

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at ChristineRo.com.

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As a child, I believed my 16-year-old babysitter, at the peak of adulthood, had all of the answers one could have. She had hip kicks, cool hair, and was in high school, which I assumed to be the height of “getting it.” She was old enough to understand the complexities of the universe (for me, at the time, that meant she could make mac and cheese from a blue box), yet not old enough to be out of touch with youth culture. I could not wait to become a teenager and to be as cool as she and the other teens I saw on TV, like Kelly Kapowski, Shawn Hunter, and Clarissa Darling. When I reached that threshold, I learned I was drastically wrong and shifted my gaze to 18 . . . and then at 18 to 21, 21 to 30. Now I’m just waiting for the comfort of the void. More… “Good Graces”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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One might think this old man at the Marina del Rey Farmer’s Market is in his last days. But the twinkle in his eyes gives away his joie de vivre. He is dressed in a gray herringbone suit, a white shirt with gold cufflinks, and a necktie. Not the usual hey-I’m-going-to-the-farmers-market attire. He could afford the suit: Before he retired he was a furrier. Now he’s a widower on the prowl. His hair is white, where he has it. He is mostly bald with ears that fall from his head like rose petals. He speaks with a heavy Yiddish accent. And behind the accent, behind the eyes, he holds secrets. It’s my job today to get at those secrets. This man, Murray, my Grandma Eva’s first cousin, knew the very house where she was raised, whom she resembled, why she came to America alone. He knew the tenor of her voice, the way she held her tea or coffee, her kindnesses. He knew her. I did not: I never knew her. She died six years before I was born, and I want him to fill in the gaps. He knew her in a way even my father, her eldest, never could have.

More… “A Day With Murray”

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in New Jersey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Jewish Literary Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Minerva Rising, and other journals.

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In August 2014, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson, Missouri covering the protests over the police shootings of Michael Brown. On August 13, his third day on assignment, Lowery was arrested at a McDonalds: a moment captured on a video that quickly went viral. The Missouri protests spread across the country, morphing into Black Lives Matter movement, and Lowery continued to follow the story. His experience and reporting are documented in his first book: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” While on this book tour, Lowery dropped by The Smart Set offices for an interview conducted by Byshera Williams and Richard Abowitz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Law & The Reporter”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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I met with Valerie Graves before her interview with Paula Marantz Cohen on The Drexel Interview. She exuded a calm and poised excitement about having so many people discussing her new book. Her memoir, Pressure Makes Diamonds: Becoming the Woman I Pretended to Be, takes a new approach to the average rags-to-riches story — mostly because Graves doesn’t come from rags at all. She starts off in a middle-class, loving family that supported her intelligence and her journey to becoming the woman she is now. Her story isn’t just about gaining success, but about how to reach back and create spaces for other women of color in advertising. Our interview was conducted in two parts, both before and after her interview with Dean Cohen. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

More… “Pressure Makes Perfect”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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How Fast Can You Run is the first novel from poet Harriet Levin Millan. Though a novel, it is based on a real person, Michael Majok Kuch. Kuch became a child refugee, one of the Sudanese Lost Boys, when his village was destroyed during the country’s civil war. But How Fast Can You Run is more than a survival story; it also preserves memories of Kuch’s early village life continuing onto his experiences getting his education in the United States. We spoke to Millan and Kuch about their collaboration on the book at Millan’s office at Drexel University where she teaches. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “How Fast Can You Write”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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The polar bear is not only the planet’s biggest land-based carnivore, but it also has a long and colorful, if often violent, history of interaction with humans, which is the topic of an illustrated new book titled Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press, November 2016) by Michael Engelhard. Michael Engelhard is both a cultural anthropologist and a wilderness guide. He is the author of two essay collections, Where the Rain Children Sleep and American Wild, and the editor of four anthologies, including Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North. Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More… “Big as a Calf, White as a Swan”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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