Race, Religion, and Culture: An Interview with Dr. Remica Bingham

By Mack Curry

Remica Bingham is a Cave Canem fellow and a member of the Affrilachian Poets. Her first book, Conversion (2006), won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. Her second book, What We Ask of Flesh, was published by Etruscan Press this year. Currently, she is director of writing and faculty development at Old Dominion University. She resides in Norfolk with her husband and children.

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Mack Curry: What was your motivation for writing your books?

Remica Bingham:Conversion came out of many childhood experiences and biblical research. I’ve always been writing poems. The thesis ended up being Conversion. What we Ask of Flesh was a focused project.” She became really interested in writing long poems, mainly 10-20 pages with different sections. She was also thinking about women and desecration and how we operate in the world. “The poems kind of grew out of me growing.”

MC: Why do most of your works have a religious feel to them? Does it come from a religious background?

RB: “The work itself isn’t religious, it’s biblical. There’s biblical mid rash writing, and religion is a whole other separate thing.” She will be writing more on religion in her next book. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Dr. Bingham is very spiritual and religious. “I think my religion informs my Bible reading. The Bible as a work of literature and its ideals really influences my writing a whole lot. I think the Bible serves as a muse.” The aspect of thinking about something higher and beyond us is also incorporated in her work.

MC: Why is Lucille Clifton one of your greatest influences, along with other black female writers?

RB: “Certainly they paved this almost impossible way for us, starting with Phyllis Wheatley all the way down to Gwendolyn Brooks. Lucille Clifton is a writer I turn to a lot because we deal with the same imagery. She deals a lot with spirituality as well. Her work is considered clear, accessible, and brilliant. I went to her as a fan first and just asked how in the world do you manage to get so much into such small spaces. I think, as a writer, even though my poems are much longer than anything she would ever put on the page, I strive to get to that kind of clarity and economy, and I think she [Clifton] is the master of those things. Lucille Clifton did in her works.”

MC: What advice would you have for up and coming writers?

RB: “Read ten times more than you write. If you’re writing one poem, you should be reading ten.” Dr. Bingham said she reads a lot of non-fiction along with poetry. “Make sure you have people in craft who you trust.” She also considers the revision process to be “a vital and essential part of craft.”

MC: What made you want to come back to work at ODU?

RB: “I just always loved ODU… I happened to get a job at NSU handling their big writing exam of all things. I worked there for seven years, and I really loved it. The opportunity arose for me to come back here because ODU created a program where they are teaching faculty how to improve disciplinary writing and get writing in more classrooms. When that job became available, it was right up my alley. When, I applied for the job and got the job, there was just absolutely no way I could turn it down.”

MC: You have a Poetry, Race, and Culture class at the Writing Center in Norfolk. What made you want to tie in all three?

RB: “The Muse. There are two great writers who run The Muse, Lisa Hartz and Michael Khandelwal. Lisa came up with the idea. She knew those were part of my interests. When I did my undergrad at ODU, I majored in English, my track was Creative Writing, and my minor was African American studies. I’m really interested in this space and time thinking about race, culture, and what is supposed to be a post racial America and how we deal with other cultures.

There have been so many events just in this past year that force us to think about how we think about race and culture, you know. Trayvon Martin to Paula Dean, you know, all those things even in the 21stcentury we’re still thinking about ways that we engage each other. So I just thought it would be a primetime do teach a class like this, and I’m excited that I have the opportunity to do it.”

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Mack Curry IV is from Bowie, Maryland. He graduated from Hampton University in 2013 with a B.A. in English. Currently, Mack is first-year MFA student in poetry at ODU and he works as a Teacher Assistant at New Horizons Regional Education Centers in Newport News, VA.