Like Richard Pryor and James Baldwin, Dwight Hobbes speaks his mind
Name the subject — any subject — and Dwight Hobbes will have something unique to say about it. After his writing appeared over the years in such publications as Reader’s Digest, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Essence and the MSR, Hobbes finally relented after being oft-asked when he’d write a book.
“People kept nagging me,” said Hobbes recently in an MSR contributing-writer-to-staff-writer conversation. As a result, his Something I Said (Papyrus Publishing, 2012) contains previously published essays, along with a half dozen more added specifically for the book — 33 in all in an uncompromising, reflective, “candid, no-holds-barred” style — ranging over such topics as domestic abuse, rape, race and relationship issues.
“The whole book is controversy after controversy, going against the politically correct vein,” said Hobbes. “I didn’t even believe I had a book that people would be interested in reading. It was really a response from people who felt that they’d like to see one. Who am I to disappoint my public?”
A third of the essays center around romantic advice, which the writer calls “having a good time. I’ve learned four or five years ago that no matter how well things seem to go at the beginning [of a relationship], there’s always
a chance of things going south.”
The book title came from Richard Pryor’s Is It Something I Said album of the late 1970s, noted Hobbes, adding that his writing style was influenced by two individuals. “I cut my teeth on James Baldwin,” he says of the legendary author who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. “That’s what I want people to say about me: ‘Dwight Hobbes might just say anything. Hobbes is not going to bite his tongue,’ and mean it with respect. That’s what I’m striving for.”
His writing style also was influenced by poet-critic Stanley Crouch “before Stanley Crouch got so self-righteous,” says Hobbes. “He was one of my guiding lights after Baldwin, because [Crouch] used to write in the Village Voice with a stark candor that Baldwin always wrote with. [But] I was very hurt when Baldwin died and Crouch started speaking ill of the dead [in his 2001 criticism of the author]. If it hadn’t for Baldwin, there wouldn’t be a Stanley Crouch.”
Hobbes admits, however, that a letter he once wrote to a former woman TV news reporter really got him started. She showed it to a local editor who offered him a job at his publication. “This is my shot,” he recalls. “[Take] a letter that I had written to Asha Blake and turned that bad boy into an essay, which is what I did.”
Asked how he decided what essays to include in the book, Hobbes explains, “When I ran out of essays that I couldn’t put in, that’s when I stopped putting essays in.” He has yet to find an untouchable subject, and he refuses to be tagged a journalist: “Reporting in [and] of itself is a journalistic skill. That’s why when people call me a journalist, I say no — I’m a writer. When people call me a reporter, I say no.”
Still, Hobbes says, “I love observing people, especially when I do a profile on a businesswoman. I love being able to capture what I see as the essence on why this is a person of consequence. I really do dig humanity.”
Furthermore, Hobbes is proud that legendary history professor Mahmoud El-Kati wrote the foreword for Something I Said and that the book is published by Papyrus, a Black-owned publishing company owned by Anura Si-Asar. He remembers what the late poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), who he once interviewed, said: “She told me that she had turned down two million dollars to sign with Doubleday in order to go work with Third World Press in Chicago.
“I’m not trying to put myself anywhere near [Brooks], but the principle was not lost on me. The first place I want to take this to is someone Black.
“It is a privilege to say how proud I am that two Black men sat down at a coffee shop and hammered out an initiative and an endeavor that was a mutual benefit on the strength of a handshake,” says Hobbes. “The book sold out within months.” The latest edition of Something I Said is now available on Kindle on Amazon.com.
Hobbes is now working on his “Black and Single Blues” series, which runs weekly in the MSR, to convert the weekly episodes into his next book. Originally a short story, it is included in Something I Said, then grew into a novella, and “now it’s a novel,” he points out. He is working on a second book of essays as well.
“Whichever one gets finished first, Black & Single Blues the novel or Movies, Media and Race, I have two more books waiting in the wings. I am not running out of material,” pledges Hobbes, who declares that he won’t ever be accused of writer’s block.
“I can’t afford to have writer’s block,” he says smiling.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.