As a Black actor, voice-over artist, writer, creative, and previous ambassador for Daniel’s Artscape Launchpad, Matthew Worku continually inspires others through his calm, composed disposition and continual drive to continue learning through making new connections, in addition to his entrepreneurial and inquisitive nature.
The objective of this interview was to unpack the creative process behind Worku’s first published poetry book, You Can Call Me. I really wanted to dive into his thought processes within the differing stages from writing, organizing, assembling, and publishing his book.
Brooke: In regards to your creative process, did you always know you wanted to write and publish a book, or was it more a realization that you had enough amalgamated work to do so?
Matthew: I didn’t know I wanted to make a book. I never really knew I was going to make a book. It was more of a realization when going through one of my books, I was like, “why is all of this sitting here?” and something just clicked- make a book! But it was just a thought at the time, and then slowly developed into something… it just started happening.
Brooke: What made you decide to sell it on Amazon rather than Chapters/Indigo?
Matthew: So I was looking at Indigo/Chapters, and I looked at different smaller publishers within the city, although two things made it difficult to go that route. One: COVID. Actually doing a physical bookstore doesn’t really make sense right now, as nobody is going to bookstores. And two: being a first time publisher, as you want your product/book to have the most reach, and the place that is accessible for most people is Amazon. I know there’s ethical and moral issues tied to it, which I have as well, so it was a tug-of-war. But at the same time, it made the most sense as a first-time author to put your book in the biggest market. Some people have hit me up asking if there’s anywhere else they can purchase the book, as they don’t want to support Amazon, and i’m like, “sorry this is where it’s at. If it crosses your moral boundaries I completely understand, but I just made the decision based on what was best for myself, as a first-time author”.
Brooke: Who inspires you? Or where do you pull inspiration for? Do you have a mentor?
Matthew: I don’t have a mentor, no. That would be dope. I pull inspiration from constantly seeking new art. I realized this when writing the book, that I’ve been doing it all my life.
Whether it’s new tangible art, new podcasts, new movies, music, just something I haven’t interacted with before, and through continually seeking new ideas, new conversations, just engaging in something I haven’t seen or heard before.
Brooke: Do you have any examples of new art you’ve recently seen/listened to?
Matthew: Yeah, when I was writing my book I listened to this song, it was a Drake song - but he was a feature on a spanish artist’s song, so I came across it and thought it was interesting. Within the song there was a line, the whole verse and song was dope. But this one line was like, “we came up in this place we both hate,” and I paused, and I thought, “this place we both hate.” What a beautiful sentence. I didn't think too much of it, moved on, and you know as time goes on a week or so later, I come up with a poem and title it, “A Place We Both Hate”. It’s not even consciously that I was like, “oh, I’m going to write about that”. It just impacted me; it was new, and it stayed with me. And as I created, my brain just pulled from it.
Brooke: How did quarantine and COVID impact your creative process with “You Can Call me”?
Matthew: It gave me time. I was at home all the time, which really positively impacted me in the sense that it gave me the time to follow through and map out what I wanted to do and schedule it. It also gave me something to do, which I think is very underrated. That was part of the sadness, when I put the book out, I was like, “aw man, storie’s over”. Once I didn’t get to work on it anymore, and it had come to its end, I had to just let it go. Then you start reminiscing of the mundane, April Tuesdays where there wasn’t anything to do, and I had the book to circle back to, invest myself in and get lost in it, waste some time, something to look forward to, especially in such a weird time. Negatively though, the whole book is inspired by romance, and during COVID, it’s pretty hard to engage in romance. So that left me pulling from whatever past experiences, whatever odd dates you’re going on in the midst of a shut down, which kinda made it interesting too, you know like looking for love, when the world is ending. The whole dynamic overall affected it in a positive way.
Brooke: In terms of inspiration, where do you pull your inspiration from for writing whether it be other artists, other music, art in general, is there anything you go to spark inspiration when you’re in a creative slump?
Matthew: I like perspectives. I like engaging with new perspectives. I enjoy talking to different people, getting to know people on a deeper level. I find vulnerability really inspires me, to see people open up, that really inspires me, - I enjoy that a lot. I feel like that fulfills me. And conversations, listening to people speak with no filter. I immerse myself in conversations.
Brooke: Why did you choose to highlight the specific poem located on the back of the book?
Matthew: That’s a really good question. I don’t even really know, it was just like a feeling thing, it made the most sense. It was one of the first poems I wrote for it. As the book is about romance, that poem discusses unrequited love, and the hopeless romantic theme, so it was just that feeling of finding someone, losing someone, and turning that into something beautiful. That was like, I asked you to give me something, you didn’t, but look what I turned that into. The, “look what has bloomed” is twofold, it’s positive and uplifting in what you can turn pain into, but it’s also like, “look what I did”.
Brooke: I noticed a common theme of love, infatuation, and self-acceptance throughout your book, do you think your self-acceptance has progressed throughout writing this book, and did you find it therapeutic/healing? Was there anything that you particularly discovered about yourself?
Matthew: Yeah, the whole thing was me learning about myself. Someone DM’d me and was like, “this book felt like front row seats to your self-discovery.” But yeah it was definitely healing in a sense that it gave me a place to put these emotions, these feelings. Yes, it was self-accepting, but more self-discovering because it’s not like I set out to accept how I feel, it was more to figure out how I feel. And in that, I would realize and notice things that I would take note of and be like, “I’ll remember that next time I act out of character.” It was super healing. Even now if I act out of character, I’ll be like, “oh I wrote about that - I know where this route takes me, I know where this leads”.
Brooke: Why did you choose the chapter titles: infatuation, guilt, clarity, loss, and acceptance?
Matthew: That decision was made with Nitin, my friend, and my editor. While we were putting together the book, I had a bunch of poems but the main thing when we were shaving it down was, “what’s the story we’re trying to tell?” You know with poetry books how some of them are arranged by no particular order; I didn’t want that, I wanted it to be a narrative. So, in creating the story, I wanted to take the reader somewhere and I wanted it to be true. That’s what’s so dope about this, is I can look back at this book and be like, “that’s exactly what happened.”
Brooke: Do you find that within relationships, the order of your topics infatuation, guilt, clarity, loss, and acceptance, fall in that exact order?
Matthew: Not all the time. I think that it represented my growth as a man and in my growth as a romantic over the last year. And when I stood back I could realize these different stages, like when I’ve been infatuated with someone, then I started going to church more and felt guilty for it, stood back and started getting clarity, which is realized into acceptance. And after acceptance, you find someone and then you lose them.
Brooke: Did you find the process of writing this book a healing experience? And did you come to these realizations when putting it together or did you come to the realizations separately and then applied them to your writing?
Matthew: It was very healing. Especially freewrite, because you don’t have to think, you don’t have to make it anything, you just pour it out. And then, the process that healed as well was just putting it out there. Getting reaction, having people hitting me up, I got the mandem talking about poetry now and I honestly think that’s so wavy, you know? They keep on telling me - I have guys, telling me, “yo bro, we need to talk, this vulnerability thing is inspiring.” That was really healing in itself, especially as a Black man. In terms of writing, there would be times where I would jot down an idea or an expression or a feeling I’m trying to get to and try to write, -almost like reverse-engineering the writing- but the majority of the time it didn’t really work like that. It was kinda more like life is happening, feelings are happening, and then from that, you’re like, “oh, that’s how I feel”. As opposed to, “this is how I feel, let me write to it”, it was more of a progressive writing process and I sat back to realize where I was at.
Brooke: As a man, publishing a poetry book is a huge move on expressing vulnerability. How do you find people are responding to it?
Matthew: I realize that now and in the responses I’m getting, but for me I’ve been doing poetry since I was a kid so it was always a part of me. I don’t think of it as “breaking barriers”, because for me, I've always been one to express myself regardless of how I feel.
Brooke: Do you journal?
Matthew: Yeah, I do. Usually, in the morning, I take 3 or so minutes to write out how I feel. Brooke: How do you keep track of/organize your thoughts?
Matthew: I’m still figuring that one out but my main method is writing, and not necessarily for the purpose of creating art but just through journaling, mapping things out. I’m big on seeing things on paper whether it’s something I want to accomplish, something I'm feeling, I write it down. Prayer is a big thing too; just connecting with God, especially during a time like this to have that presence, that bigger-than-you feeling, it calms me.
Brooke: With all of your poetry, do you try to maintain cohesion? Or is there always a different theme you’re trying to convey?
Matthew: I do, and it was really hard because some poems that I loved just didn’t work with the story I was trying to tell for this book.
Brooke: Are you a very visual person? While writing, do you usually have visuals in your head or is your process more idea-based throughout your writing?
Matthew: I wouldn’t consider myself visual when it comes to writing. At the end of writing, I turn it into a visual. Sometimes I’m trying to get to a destination, but majority of the time I don’t
Brooke: Which poem in the book did you write first, if there was a particular one?
Matthew: “Infatuation”. I wrote it in 2019, in June. At the time I was living and exploring other creative ventures. I was in the kitchen, on a nice sunny summer day. You know that expression, “you don't find poetry, you go to a place where poetry will find you,” at that place in my life I wasn’t focusing on poetry, it just came to me.
Brooke: What would be a dream collaboration for you?
Matthew: PG Lang. Kendrick Lamar’s a production/creative company. And TedTalk. Brooke: What is your relationship with what you wear and self-expression?
Matthew: I’ve been trying to be more conscious of self-expression through my style. I've thought about doing a wardrobe revamp, throwing out what I don’t need/use. I’ve always been very comfort-oriented. I’ve always relied on presence as a main form of self-expression. I think maybe in the future I’d be into hiring a stylist, to curate my fits.
Brooke: Do you intentionally exude power through other modes of communication other than your writing?
Matthew: Yeah, I don't think I exude power, but truth. Who I am, how I carry myself, how I am, I express myself through that, through presence and conversation.
Brooke: Do you have any advice for any creatives who are aspiring writers/poets?
Matthew: Yeah. write. Follow the feeling. Understand that writing can open you up to so many other things, and don’t shy away from the business. Be open to new opportunities and experiences.
It’s evident through this interview that Matthew’s optimistic, ambitious outlook actively inspires those around him. His appreciation for conversation, understanding speech and how individuals communicate is an important factor of his life that reflects his values: presence, vulnerability, emotional intelligence, and finding a channel to communicate one’s emotions, whether to oneself, to others, or for the public (in Matthews case, publishing You Can Call Me).