A native of South Florida, Julius Jamaal McLean is an African American writer, poet, and creator striving to encourage, influence, and represent the voice of young artists. Inspired by the work and creativity of African American writers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, his debut poetry book Harlem Nights and Footstep Blues evolved organically from a desire to create something relatable, impactful, and relevant to modern social issues and culture. Julius’ poetry is a way for him to speak from the perspective of those from his demographic who are not given the opportunity to speak for themselves often. His desire is for the sound of his own voice to ignite the passion within those of his generation and motivate them to express themselves in the same manner.

What age did the poetry bug bite you, and do you remember your first poem? 

I've always been a great writer since my younger years growing up. I wrote my first serious poem at the end of high school which was in 2007 and I was 18 years old. It was a love poem called "Me and You". It doesn't really compare to what I've done since but it was the start. I still have it and I can share a few lines from it: "You caught my attention/So I couldn’t be shy/You captivated me/You’re the sun in my sky." It's a simple a poem and something that I wrote for my girlfriend at the time, but I wouldn't really say that I caught the poetry bug at the time, although it was something that came together pretty naturally. I believe I've been successful at poetry because my thoughts are very poetic and metaphorical and I draw from so many different sources. I believe that our writing is a manifestation of our thoughts and if you are a deep or creative thinker, then you have the potential to be a great writer. The challenge is how well you are able to translate your thoughts into writing and I think that's what intimidates most people. I think that because of how I think and because I've always been a good writer, it was easy for me to transition to writing poetry. Being a member of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi and being involved in a lot of events on campus during my college years at the University of Miami really stimulated my growth as a poet. I began to write poetry for events that my fraternity chapter, Iota Chi, would have and that made me realize that I had the ability to write poetry well. After a while, I would just naturally come up with concepts in my head and draw inspiration from everything around me. Eventually, poetry became a part of me and I became better at taking my thoughts and translating them into poetic concepts.

Are you a spoken word artist as well, if so where do you perform? If not, why not?

I wouldn't consider myself a spoken word artist, although I have performed some of my written poems on several occasions and I'm not afraid to perform my written poems. I really just consider myself more of a writer than a performer and I think that there are certain skills that spoken word artists have that I haven't developed yet because I focus more on developing as a writer. I have nothing against spoken word because I do enjoy it, but I just enjoy the writing aspect of poetry more. I consider my performances as more of traditional poetry reading. I think I would have to hone my craft more as a performer before I could call myself a spoken word artist, but I take every opportunity to perform my work when I'm publicizing it because I feel that it is important to perform it whenever I can and I try my best to memorize everything and perform each piece to the best of my ability.

You have a healthy number of poems in your collection. How many poems have you written to date, and how long did it take you to choose specific pieces for 
Harlem Nights and Footstep Blues? 

I have at least 260 poems that I've started. Some are still incomplete and others are finished. I have many that I'm still fine tuning.I'm always coming up with and starting new poems even if I don't finish them. I like to do my poems in spurts and I'm always going back to revisit poems that I started, to make changes to them. Eventually, when realized that I had amassed a large collection of over 100 poems over several years, I decided to put together my poetry book. It didn't take long to select the poems to put in the collection because I knew which poems I really wanted to have in it and then I just put together a list of everything that could potentially be in my collection. Once I had my list it probably took a week to arrange the poems in the order that I wanted them in and then from there I made a few minor changes like removing certain poems or maybe swapping a poem with something else I was originally going to omit from the collection. The whole process of picking the poems, arranging them, and finalizing the order took just a few weeks at most, but the poems were written mostly over the last 3 years.

Excerpts of the two title poems "Harlem Nights" and "Footstep Blues":

Harlem Nights

What happens to a slave deferred from freedom?
 Do we need him?
Does he believe every lie
That we feed him?
How long can we deceive him?
How do we sleep at night
Knowing the nature of his plight?

Perhaps, it is more dangerous if he knows
Than if he doesn’t know
That he lies so low
On the totem pole.
After all, the bottom is more
Pleasant than limbo—
But for us lies are more
Pleasant than truth told.

 What happens to a lie deferred from truth?
 Does it hold,
Even after it’s centuries old?
 Or does it explode?

Footstep Blues

On a grossly neglected street,
Marching to his own imaginary beat,
I watched a Negro plant his feet.
Each step gave a glimpse
Of the paths he had tread.
His walk was a language
That I had read,
And few could understand
What it actually said.

I heard the horns
Of his gangsta bounce.
The sound of his kicks
On pavement drowned
Every other sound out.

Meanwhile, my walk
Danced to a slightly different beat.
Our signature styles
Collided on that jagged street.
In the midst of our percussive
Street melodies,
We nodded our heads
To acknowledge each other
As young black kindred.
Understood without being said,
Our music linked our telepathic threads.

We grooved
And beat hopped
To street-feet hip-hop.

We spoke through footstep blues
And dope Nike shoes.
Footstep blues
And dope Nike shoes…
Footstep blues,
Jordan twos,
Gamma blues,
Ella Fitzgerald,
Satchmo Lou,
Langston Hughes…
Those footstep blues.


Barnes & Noble: 

Also available for ebook format on Apple iBooks, Blio, and Kobo Apps.
 author website: coming soon

 IG: @universaleuomo 
Twitter: @juliusjmclean  

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