an intimate interview with our founder & ceo, jean bub
*there are mentions of suicide and self harm.
1. Tell us a little bit about your backstory and how it influenced your passion for poetry.
i’ve always been into writing. i began expressing myself since i could hold a pencil — it was out of naivety, though. it was before i fully understood what it meant to write.
my pain and resilience are my biggest influence.
i had a really rough childhood. i was bullied a lot in school for my physical features and ethnicity, which led into a plethora of hate and bullying. i was raised to never let anyone step all over me — but defending myself, as you could imagine, made things far worse.
i had a lot of problems at home. my father was an abusive alcoholic, and my mother was in a really bad car accident that left her disabled, and with much trauma. i could go on about this for hours, or you could read my books. kidding, kidding — as things escalated in school, they escalated at home as well. i started to cut myself. burn myself. i’d do whatever i could to stop the pain i had growing inside of me. my breaking point was when a couple of the girls who bullied me pulled me to the side in the hallway, and twisted my arms. i had previously engaged in self harm the night before, so i had to walk around in pain, bleeding for the rest of the school day. and no — nobody noticed. my mom and i went to the police to file reports of harassment and death threats, but they turned us away. that broke me.
i ultimately tried to commit suicide a couple days after.
i would say the enlightenment i had afterwards is what sparked the fire inside of me. the gratification i got from writing was way more satisfying, and way less damaging than self harm ever was. i used to cope, but it had blossomed into something much more beautiful than just a mechanism.
i realized it could help people, too.
2. The first book that you wrote and published was “Pulchritude and Soul”. What was the defining moment that made you realize you had to share your story with the literary world?
after my suicide attempt, i was placed in a psychiatric hospital where we were mandated to participate in group therapy. it was amazing to hear that i wasn’t alone. every individual perspective gave me a more refined view of pain. i realized then and there that my suffering wouldn't be forever. that i would get through this. i wanted to know why nobody spoke about this, and why instead, depression and suicide was glorified (we're talking 2012 tumblr). so i began sharing my story online and i had an overwhelming response. i knew i had to take it further, when i was ready. i had thought about youtube but it was too intimidating. writing, however, had always been there for me. it felt appropriate to release the deepest parts of me, formally, bound into a properly formatted and legible book.
3. After publishing your first book, what were the thoughts going through your head? Were you worried about its’ reception and what readers would think of you?
definitely. since i released pulchritude & soul in high school, i was especially worried about the kind of attention it would bring to me. prior to publishing, i had always been an outspoken person who wasn’t afraid to speak up for myself and others — but putting out my raw emotions and very personal experiences into the world was a totally different form of expression. it was inviting everyone around me to examine the most private parts of my life.
i can tell you now that it was worth it.
4. In addition to Pulchritude and Soul, you have a second book, “Roots of the Resilient”. In what ways is this book different than P&S, and do you notice a certain growth in the span between your two novels, be that personal or in your writing?
Pulchritude and Soul was my first book. it was my first attempt at being vulnerable. it was soft, and it delved deep -- but it was clear that i was holding back. i was definitely scared. it was my first encounter where people reached out to me, genuinely, for both help, and for support. it was also my first encounter with the naysayers and envious beings who didn’t appreciate me putting out writing about my personal life. Roots of the Resilient was more like, “fuck you, this is my story, and i’ll tell it however i see fit.” Roots is raw. it’s incredibly vulnerable, and it’s vivid. i have definitely grown since P&S. i no longer hold back, nor do i contemplate putting something in my book in fear of the backlash — it’s my book. this is my life. this is how i heal.
5. In what ways has being open and raw with your journey and emotions changed your life, whether for better or worse, if it has?
its made me incredibly more honest with myself, and has made me aware of how many people are comfortable living in denial. being honest with yourself is the only way you will ever be able to grow, recover, and improve. how can you better yourself if you are unable to assess what's wrong?
this has led me to accept the disorders i've been afflicted with, and help aide my recovery. i'm able to say, yes, i have depression, but i am working towards a better tomorrow. i'm able to celebrate the same triumphs and work on my flaws -- and help others, too.
the only bad thing i can say that has come out of this, are the haters. you're hating on me for wanting to do better? for spreading awareness? for getting my shit together? in the beginning it was incredibly discouraging. now, i laugh. as i said before, this is my life. and this is how i chose to heal.
6. You recently started your publishing house, Wide Eyes Publishing. What prompted you doing so, and what is your goal for your company? How do you plan on changing the tide when it comes to publishing and readership?
i decided to start Wide Eyes shortly after i started @communityofpoetry, a page where i repost and share the poetry of others on instagram. upon realizing how much raw and real talent was being ignored by publishers for mediocre, fragmented sentences — there grew a fire in my belly that wouldn’t go out. i was extremely disappointed in the industry, especially because poetry claims to be such an inclusive genre — but major published work, seems to be very dense and all too familiar to common catch phrases and sayings.
i was also upset with the way that traditional publishers go about their business — they take no initiative to build TALENTED authors from the ground up. they rather take an instagram poet with 100k followers and one liners and launch them into the light. Wide Eyes is focused on giving authors the right material, information and training to help make the right career moves so they can GET to that light.
7. I can imagine being 18 and starting a company is not only exciting and daunting at the same time. In addition, have you received negative comments from people who question your dream? Do you think people underestimate you?
it’s definitely a job — however it’s waaaaaaaaay more rewarding than your regular 9-5. the connections i’ve made are absolutely priceless. there are so many amazing people in this industry that've pushed me to do better. i've gotten so much support from the community.
i have gotten a plethora of shade thrown at me since i published my first book -- starting a whole company really made certain people upset. to quote a$ap rocky,
"how you gonna knock somebody in the world for actually trying to do something? trying? since when has it become not cool to try?"
i dropped out of college to pursue this, so i’m sure you can imagine all the people that’ve called me crazy. however — it seems as though the only people that underestimate me are those who don’t know me. i’ve gotten an overwhelming amount of love since i began Wide Eyes. it’s what has motivated me to keep going!
8. What are you looking for when you decide to publish someone?
vigor and truth. i value the rawness of the work highly — there’s so much that needs to be spoken about, that’s being covered up by sweet nothings. fuck sweet nothings. i look for authenticity and purpose. why are you publishing a book? for who? what is your story and how does it apply here? how do you want your work to effect people?
9. How important is representing diversity to you?
it’s extremely important. we’ve heard the same narrative for so long. we’ve seen the same types of people getting published for so long. it’s time to really start supporting others. it’s time to support people that talk about things we aren’t comfortable with. its time to give them a platform, and to let them talk! through starting my other page, @communityofpoetry, i have met so many INCREDIBLE poets. like, insanely talented people that SHOULD be published, but aren’t because they talk about topics that are “risky” or “controversial.” for me, it’s like... so? isn’t that what writing is all about? don’t we do this, engage in this tedious craft, to express ourselves to our fullest extent? haven’t we poured our deepest secrets into our journals since day one? why is it suddenly a problem now?
i know so many poets that deserve the platform that these huge “insta” poets have. but it’s hard for them to grow, because no publisher wants to back someone with ideals other than their own. sorry, but that’s fucked up. i’m tired of reading about heartbroken girls and men mansplaining women’s pain. that’s not important. what’s it like being black in america? how does it feel like growing up with no representation in media? how does it feel to be trapped in stigma, how does it feel to rise above it? how do you cope with the current political climate when they're trying to invalidate everything that you are? how do you explain to people that having a mental illness doesn't make you a monster? how do you stop yourself from being pushed over the edge?
i read a quote the other day that really aligned with my vision at wide eyes.
“diversity will always out preform homogeneity.”
and that, it will.
10. Next to working on Wide Eyes and your poetry feature page, CommunityofPoetry, are you working on anything else? Another book perhaps (please say yes!!)??
Yes! if i told you how many projects i’m currently working on, you’d think i’m crazy. i just started @resilient.minds, an instagram account which i used to use as a mental health journal — i plan on turning it into a collaborative brand that i can use to help spread awareness for mental health, equality and charity events such as the one we'll be holding on the 8th of December in accordinace with She Will Speak Series.
and of course i have the magazine for wide eyes — a very big project which is turning into such an incredible one. for our first issue, we’re launching our COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION campaign. you’ll see. there’s a lot we have in store for you guys.
can’t say much, but there’s three books on the way.
and no, i don't get much sleep.
11. Do you have any advice for someone who is beginning to write poetry or maybe thinking about publishing a book?
don't hold back. this is your testimony to all that you've endured. this is yours, and nobody else's. seriously -- write the shit out of your book. there is someone out there praying that one day they'll be able to resonate so deeply with a piece of literature that they'll decide to pick up the pen and begin to write, too.
be the person behind the literature.
be the person you always needed.