Artist Interviews 2021

Mike “the Poet” Sonksen     
By Laura Siebold

Mike Sonksen, better known as Mike “the Poet”, is a many-generation native Angeleno who has made Los Angeles the center of his creative work. As a poet, writer for KCET, Los Angeles tour guide since 1997, and educator, Mike knows every neighborhood in Los Angeles County and has witnessed the influence of communities and movements on neighborhoods, causing the city’s transformation in history. In his latest book “Letters To My City” {The Accomplices/Writ Large Press, 2019}, Mike tells quintessential L.A. stories, juxtaposes articles and poems, and exposes the diverse history and culture of a city that has often been accused of neglecting (the importance of) its past. As a writer and tour guide, Mike finds fulfillment through connecting with people while uncovering the city’s literary narrative; it is a narrative shaped by artists, communities, and places, documented through the eyes of a true Angeleno.

We interviewed Mike about local L.A. history, past and future artistic collaborations, and his many roles as a poet in Los Angeles.

“I am still alive in Los Angeles!”
I am still alive in Los Angeles
even as the price of rent rises
and gridlock strangles arteries
I’m old enough to remember disco parties
and the build up to the 1984 Olympics […]
I am still alive in Los Angeles
as they build high speed trains down Crenshaw
and out into the San Gabriel Valley changes
in transportation for the new generation
foreshadow the nation’s transformation
as millennials on bicycles
call for the return of the Garden City;
green in the 21st Century is a matter of survival
-- witness the revival of the wetlands
the riparian watershed is a sentinel
for sustainability unbridled consumption
is a liability, observe residents of
Angel City playing their part restoring nature’s heart
I am still alive in Los Angeles
from festivals to funerals,
baby showers to weddings,
each generation ever more beautiful
reality is ever musical
throngs of people mix and match
creating the patchwork mosaic of multicultural souls
coming together to call LA home.
The community is a poem in progress called Los Angeles. […]
I am […] Alive in Los Angeles!
I am still alive in Los Angeles.
Thanks to family, friends and poetry.
The past, present and future of my city gives me energy.
Untold generations of history
from Biddy Mason to Chavez Ravine
to Toyo Miyatake
punctuating the power of place
turning the page sharing authority
because we share the story of the city unfolding
no hierarchy, we all belong to this city
it’s oral her-story. […] I am still alive in Los Angeles!"

Excerpt from Sonksen, Mike: “Letters To My City”, The Accomplices/Writ Large Press, 2019.

I’m glad you can take the time today. Let’s jump right in.

As a many-generation native Angeleno, you have witnessed the transformation of public spaces, communities, and culture in Los Angeles firsthand. Which role does art play in these transformations?

Art plays a great role in the transformation. There’s always been a great art community in LA. I would say everything is always in cycles as far as… I think even some political administrations are more conducive for art. But if you look through the generations, there is quite a lineage of art through LA. And in many ways, like for example in the 90s right after the Rodney King uprisings, you know, you really had a heck of a music scene come to rise. And I mean, it was already kind of there, but these events maybe make the music that much more relevant, you know, and the artists have that much more inspiration, and… so, I would say that art is one of the best catalysts of all for the transformation. And, it’s interesting because at times even some people say that, you know, developers, and some of the evil forces use art to try to gentrify. And I mean, think, in a lot of ways we can never have too much art. I’m an advocate of the arts, but, I think, like for example in the mid-90s when the music scene came to rise, [in] every generation, the artists played a role. And I’ve been involved with quite a few different communities, but the one that I know the most of all of course, is the poetry community. And, the poetry, you know there’s always been more poetry in LA than people realize […] since, I mean even the 80s and 90s, there was a pretty decent poetry community. But, now, to this very day, there are a lot of poetry venues and some of it was centered around book stores and art galleries, but there’s a lot of small publishing press, a lot of publishing houses, the blogs, and the internet came to rise really in the late 90s, early 2000s. And, so, I think the arts have become not only a vehicle for the transformation, but have become the space, one of the spaces where the city is most represented, where the city is expressed.

Starting from the early 2000s in terms of influential literary artists, who would you name?

You know, in poetry, I talk a lot about this woman Wanda Coleman, and Wanda Coleman, you know, probably really became famous in the late 80s, early 90s. But, into maybe early to mid-2000s, was her, was part of her heyday. Was kind of her … she actually passed, 7 years ago now, and she was only 67, so she, if she was still alive, you know, she’d be 74. […] Charles Bukowski is probably the most famous poet in the history of LA, you know, as far as internationally known, but Wanda maybe, was, you know, not too far behind him in fame, but she wrote 20 books and published over a 1000 poems… and was a pretty good performer, was a pretty good reader of her work, but she, was also literary, she was a writer. And she was, you know. pretty blue-collar with it, one critic said that her work straddled the line between Hollywood and Watts, where she wrote about South Central, and she wrote about the blood and bones of LA, but she also, for a while, wrote, you know, wrote soap operas. She won a day-time Emmy. She did some television writing, and she didn’t do a whole lot of Hollywood stuff, but, you know, she went between these different worlds. She was well loved at Beyond Baroque in Venice which is one of the kind of the poetry centers of LA. Other poets that were influential: Lewis MacAdams. And he, Lewis MacAdams, he was an environmental activist that started The Friends of the LA River. But he went to Princeton in the 60s and during the late 60s, early 70s, he had a deep affiliation with New York School of Poets. Charles Olsen and Frank O’Hara, Ted Barrigan. Lewis MacAdams came to LA in the early 1980s. He came to LA in early 1980. And in the early 1980s, there was a performance art scene in LA, and performance art was very much connected to punk rock. […] And Lewis MacAdams, the story goes, he was at a party in DTLA in the Arts District, and he was in a warehouse, and there was a fence, and on the other fence was the LA River. And the LA River, of course, most of it is encased in concrete, and it looked like a sewer, you know. […] So when he came to LA and found out about the LA River he then did some research, and he was like, wait, what, this used to be a real natural river, but now it’s encased in concrete. So, when he did all that research, in 1985 and 1986, he started The Friends of the LA River, but he did a bunch of poems about the LA River, but he died last year, he died almost a year ago now, and he was 75 when he passed, but The Friends of the LA River is now one of the largest non-profit groups in LA. […] But Lewis McAdams started The Friends of the LA River with a poetry performance, and wrote a whole cycle of poems about the LA River, so Lewis McAdams and Wanda Coleman are two great LA poets that I have a lot of love for. I mean, there’s so many. There’s Luis Rodriguez who was just Poet Laureate, and […] there’s different schools of poetry. There’s a more academic school, poets […] are a little bit more off the beaten path, and you know, not exactly street poets, but more of a … poets for the people, more populist poets, if you will.

So out of all these different artistic influences, over the decades, what would you say, like from today’s standpoint, 2021 – What is the character of Los Angeles? How do you see the concepts of identity and space reflected in the artwork all over the city?

You know, the art work… There are as many different LA’s as there are people. And so art is a fantastic lens to express your identity. …. I always tell people there’s almost as many poetry communities. There is academic poets, there is hip hop poets, there is Chicano poets, there is, you know, Black Arts poets, there is LGBT poets. There are some spaces where even almost all of these poets co-exist and mingle together, but then there is also very avant-garde artsy poets going to, you know, Cal Arts and you know, then there’s, there’s different, you know, writing programs at Long Beach State, and so […] the arts is a great place for people to really explore their identity and their beliefs, in so many ways. You know, the old argument back in the day where art should not be political, and, you know, it’s always gonna be political. […] Just being black used to be political. And so, some poets embrace expressing themselves more politically and with more, you know, deeper critiques than others. You know, T.S. Eliot used to say, it’s about the art and it’s not political, but I would say that, in the last you know particularly last 20 years and even more so, particularly, not just post-9-11, but in the age of Trump, and in the age of what we’ve been, poets cannot help but be political. And, many visual artists are political and, if there ever was any, there aren’t very many neutral artists left. Most artists are really deeply dyed in the war of whatever they are, whatever their belief systems are.

Over the past two decades, how has Los Angeles been shaped by its artists, particularly street artists, and muralists? So you mentioned, before we started the interview, the muralist movement in the city?

You know, I love murals. Murals are awesome. They’re very influential and I think, sometimes, in this rise of high-rise condos, and Starbucks, some developers have even co-opted murals or have even embraced murals. And I mean, in a lot of ways, I think even developers and these people embracing murals, even whether or not you like the developments – it’s still a step in the right direction because the murals do add color to the city. Murals do add flavor to the city, and like one of the things that I would say, that I’m most expressed by, is that in the neighborhood of Pacoima, along Van Nuys Boulevard, there’s kind of a group of artists that tripled the number of murals over a three-mile stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima, from about Arleta to Glen Oaks along Van Nuys Boulevard, there’s now over thirty murals in this area of Pacoima and they call it Mural Mile. Well, 20 years ago, that part of the San Fernando Valley was maybe the most run-down part of the Valley, probably the poorest part of the Valley, I mean, and it’s still working-class, but, I wanna give a special shoutout to… there’s a young woman artist and she’s now in her late thirties, but she… this woman is Kristy Sandoval. Kristy Sandoval single-handedly helped, she walked up and down Van Nuys Boulevard, she grew up in Pacoima and she talked to business owners and she said “we’d like to paint a mural on the side of your building”, and quite a few of them said “yes”. And, she wasn’t the only one, […]. But Kristy, really, she helped spear-headed. But anyway, in that area of Pacoima, there wasn’t actually a bunch of Starbucks that came in in high-rise condos. These artists, you know, working in conjunction with this non-profit group called “Pacoima Beautiful”, it was a bunch of mothers in Pacoima ‘cause Pacoima had some of the highest air pollution in the San Fernando Valley, and so they’re an environmental justice group. And so, for me, my favorite stories are these groups of committed citizens that come together to try to make the city a better place. Like these artists in Pacoima. And the reason why everybody loved that hip hop artist Nipsey Hussle so much was because he was about uplifting his community. You know, when he built his store, he built it on Slauson and Crenshaw where he grew up. He didn’t put a store on Melrose or Fairfax. […] But when he decided to open up his own clothing line and have a business, he put his business in the neighborhood he grew up in. And so, I like the self-determination of artists and for me, that agency, that direct agency of artists investing in their own neighborhoods. I also know that it’s a challenge to do that because … we had some friends of ours that owned a coffee house in Long Beach in the mid-2000s and it was a beautiful coffee house and we did a lot of poetry events, we had art shows there, it was awesome. […] But one of them was a painter, the other one was a photographer, but they were also really charismatic dudes that everybody loved. I think, part of their, even their charisma was kind of driving the success of the space. But, eventually, I think, you know it takes almost everything you got to run one of these businesses. And one of them ended up getting married, and then, the other guy, his painting career started taking off, and a few things happened, and the place fizzled out, and before you know it, they were closing up shop. But they had about three, four years of doing really, really well. But, in order to [have: N/A] made it more sustainable, they probably would have needed to have a bigger team, or sacrifice their own careers. You know, or found a way to reconcile it because … it was just a lot to manage. So, what I’m saying is that, you know, when there is sort of an entrepreneurial angle, […] the arts and commerce don’t have to be in conflict. But it’s a tough line to negotiate. […] So, what I’m saying is, sometimes these art movements in these spaces are somewhat short-lived, you know, there’s a few spaces that have actually been around a long time such as Beyond Baroque in Venice. It’s been around since 1968. And The World Stage in Leimert Park has been around since 1989. But, these spaces inevitably have a real glorious run, and you know, there’s rarely somebody that stays […].

What do murals teach us about the city and the people living in it?

Murals in some way, can even be, as the form of mass medium, mass media, they might even have, some of the semiotic principles that a film does because it’s a visual art form. And, I have a friend of mine, who passed two years ago, who passed unexpectedly at 58 of a heart attack, a guy named Ed Fuentes and we both wrote for KCET, but his column for KCET was called “Writing on a Wall”. My column was called “LA Letters”, my column was really about neighborhoods and poetry, neighborhoods, and the literary arts and a little bit of music, too. But Ed Fuentes, every week, Ed Fuentes wrote about murals. He wrote about the new murals coming up in LA. […] But I’ve done quite a few neighborhood pieces that had murals in them, too. But Ed, had a beautiful quote and I’m gonna paraphrase it because I don’t remember the exact words he said – but he said that murals really act as a form of public history. They can tell a story of a city in an inch. They can tell a story of a city with some imagery and like […] my good friend who is a muralist, sometimes he’ll have a few words in his mural. So, like a mural can tell a story. You know, after Kobe Bryant died, all of a sudden, literally, dozens of Kobe Bryant murals popped up around the city. After Nipsey Hussle was killed, dozens of Nipsey Hussle murals popped up over the city. And so, these murals can kind of celebrate someone or lionize someone. There was this famous woman named Toypurina who was actually, well, she was a medicine woman of the Tongva, of the Native Americans by the San Gabriel Mission, and there is a famous story that she tried to lead an uprising of the indigenous against the Catholic Mission in San Gabriel in the late 18th century. And so, there is a lot of people who have pointed this woman, Toypurina, have painted her, you know, and, so, a mural can celebrate somebody who’s been influential in the city and they can do it, as much as I love a thousand-word essay. […] So, the mural can be kind of a great equalizer and it can pull people in and it maybe get some kids that weren’t really that interested in history. […]

Do you feel that murals are very distinct in actually allowing, or even, pushing people to see a visual history of the past that’s different from other artistic forms of expression?

We know I mean it’s sure is accessible. It sure is right there on the corner. I mean, you’re driving by and boom, there’s a big mural. It may be, humanizes the arts, and the beautiful thing about a mural is, it’s very democratic, whereas, as much as I love galleries, if you talk about these famous galleries, some of these were in Beverly Hills and some of these were on La Cienega and Robertson, and maybe not everyone would make it into a gallery. But people see that big giant mural on the side of the Los Angeles River, or have seen a mural right on 7th Street, you know, just west of DTLA, I think, the murals... You know, my friend Kristy Sandoval, who did many of the murals in Pacoima, she went to college in San Francisco. And there’s a bunch of murals in the Mission District in San Francisco. And she remembers seeing all those murals in the Mission District and when she came home to LA, she was like you know what, I wanna have murals in my neighborhood, like there were in the mission in San Francisco. And also she was like, there’s murals in Boyle Heights, a lot of people say, you know, Boyle Heights was one of the birth places of the Chicano Mural Movement. The Chicano Mural Movement started really in the 70s, even late 60s, but in the last 50 years, LA has been one of the capitals of the mural movement. World capitals of the mural movement. And, actually, for a little while, for almost 10 years, there was a moratorium on murals to see in LA. And Mayor Garcetti, in 2013, actually revoked that and allowed murals to happen again. But for a little while, murals were even, there was even a moratorium on murals, I wanna say from 2002/2003 to about 2013. So, you’ve seen, for the last 7-8 years, another explosion in murals because it was politically more acceptable now. I think starting in the 80s and 90s, graffiti was huge in LA, so sometimes murals, graffiti artists wouldn’t hit on a mural, some would, so I think you see murals all over LA. Some of the muralists are more well-known than others, some of them were definitely more skilled than others.

Have you witnessed any changes in the artistic expression of the city’s communities since the start of the pandemic?

You know, I think the pandemic has caused a few people to turn lemons into lemonade. There have been some people that have done some pretty creative things out of necessity. I’ve also heard, you know, some writer friends of mine, saying that they haven’t done as much writing during the pandemic as they wanted to because they were taking care of a lot of things. So, I think, different people have been affected differently, and, I think, some musicians have stayed hoed up and stayed home and just produced a lot of music. So, I think there have been some people that have really used the pandemic to be very creative. But I also know there’s funny people that the pandemic made them deal with some more everyday realities, or made them, have to roll up their sleeves or just deal with the day to day. […] So, I think, you know, there have been some days where I wanted to write more, but I was zooming with my son. You know, I’m teaching my own classes, but I think there are quite a few artists that have used the pandemic to their advantage and done something with it. And used a lot of work. And I think it has caused some people to pull a rabbit out of a hat and do some pretty interesting things.

In your poem “I am still alive in Los Angeles!”, you called Los Angeles “a poem in progress”. Which role do you as Mike “the Poet” play in its transformation? How does the city come alive for you through poetry?

You know, I think, one of my favorite duties that I personally do is really try to celebrate people, and moments, and neighborhoods, and spaces, and artists. I come from the school of thought of: I like they way the writer Jonathan Gold who wrote a lot about LA food, Jonathan Gold, you know, he mostly, only really wrote about restaurants he really loved. And I was even doing that myself before I even knew about his work. And then I found out about his work and the spirit of what he did and why he did it really resonated with me. So, in my book I have a poem celebrating Wanda Coleman, […], I have a poem “An ode to LA women writers” where I list like over a hundred LA women writers. And so, one of my roles is celebrating, you know, at the same time, you know, I’m not afraid of the dark history and there’s a lot to talk about. So, like, I have, you know, I love the history of South Central Los Angeles and I have an essay in my book that talks about the history of it, and how it’s, what there were restricted housing cabinets… and now there’s gentrification happening, now some of the very people that became the heart and soul of the neighborhood, are being priced out of their neighborhood. And so, you know, coming back to murals, too, this idea of public history is something that I really like. And public history is the idea that history belongs to everybody, not just the PhD people, […]. But, I like this intersection of street knowledge, the knowledge of direct experience, and book knowledge. And I think, finding the happy medium between the two. And I think doing deep research is a lot of fun, but I also like talking to the old man across the street who lived in the house for 57 years. […] He can tell you about when the shopping mall was a dirt lot or could tell you when there used to be a little creek than ran over there. So, I like the neighborhood stories and I like oral history and I like people story. My own work in a way is an intersection of oral history and hearing people’s stories and, I also love reading. I mean I do do research and I have, a book-buying habit, you know, I’m not real materialistic, but you know, music and books, are two things I happen to be materialistic about, as far as I do collect music and books, I love that. But yeah, you know, so, my work is this intersection of I’m always researching and I’m always trying to find out more and more about different movements and different times, but I also really enjoy the people. You know, my favorite thing of all of LA really would be the people. The people who make up the city. And I’ve been blessed enough to meet a lot of different people, from a lot of different neighborhoods, and some of them was from my teaching jobs, some of them was from doing poetry in different neighborhoods, some of it was from my 20s, I had a lot of different jobs, some of it was from my tour guiding, you know. I met a lot of different people on the tours. And that comes back to my grandfather, too. He was a guy that knew the names of the people at the grocery store, and if he went to a restaurant a lot, he knew that waitress, he knew the name of the dude who was the cook. And so, social relations to me, are important. […]

In this context, can you tell us a little bit more about your upbringing and your career? So how did you become a tour guide, a writer, a poet, and educator? Was this always what you wanted to do?

You know, there was a lot of serendipity. I really fell in love with writing late-teens, early twenties, you know, and I decided, yeah, I want to write. And I love it. But, also, I had wanted to go to graduate school and urban planning, I was really interested in urban planning. And that was something, I did not even discover the Urban Planning major, until I was like almost graduated from UCLA. And for a while, I was like, I wanna go to grad school for Urban Planning, but my undergraduate was in Sociology. But, growing up, my mom, I was mostly raised by my mom. My mom was a school teacher in Long Beach for 35 years, and she’s retired now. But, my parents split up. They were divorced by the time I was two. My parents split up very early. […] But what I would say is that I went to UCLA and I graduated in 1992 and as a kid in the 80s, I took a lot of drives with my dad and then with my grandfather. And my dad moved out of California for about ten years for most of my childhood and then he moved back to LA; when I was about 14/15 years old, he moved back. And when he moved back, I started seeing him more. But, my grandparents lived in Long Beach, just a couple of miles south of us. And my grandfather, I always talk about him, because he was just this really charismatic, nice dude and we spent a lot of time together, just going all over the place. And his view of the world and his perspective on the world shaped a lot of my world view. And so, at UCLA in the 90s, as I started studying sociology, but I also started studying LA history, California history, California literature. I really love this intersection of literature, geography, and history. And for that matter, there are other things that factor over that, even anthropology, you know, urban anthropology, obviously sociology and cultural studies. All of these things, kind of overlap. Eventually, when I went to grad school, I got a Master’s in English and History, ‘cause I love English and History equally.

So did you get your Urban Planning degree?

You know, I took some Urban Planning classes, but I never went to graduate school. I never went to graduate school on Urban Planning, but I took like three Urban Planning classes in my last year at UCLA as an undergraduate. [I did go to graduate school but later on in English & History at Cal State LA.; additional info by Mike Sonksen] And then, as far as Urban Planning is concerned, I read all the books. You know, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford and Mike Davis. You know, I read a lot of the books about urban planning. And I always say that I became an underground urban planner, you know, through poetry. And the tour guiding thing was something that started in ‘97, right out of UCLA, I got a job as a tour guide, you know, I didn’t want to get a corporate job, so it was just something that kind of happened. But if you ask my friends, they’ll tell you that I was probably doing those tours in high school when I first started driving, I was already getting my buddies in the car and we were driving to bookstores. You know, my friend Tony nicknamed me that; my buddy Tony Fleming aka Tone Tec.. And I was, actually, in Flagstaff, Arizona at the time. I used to stop there once a week and the store got a job I had and we were just always doing poetry and free styling and just kind of living, breathing, sleeping poetry, and he nicknamed me Mike “the Poet” one day. And, you know, you're Mike “the Poet”. […] So it was just one of those things that that stuck in a lot of people now that have known me for many years. I've become Mike “the Poet”. And as I started teaching in this and that, you know, I taught high school I had to be Mr. Sonksen, or whatever, but actually, even the first high school I taught at, I let the kids just call me Mike “the Poet”. So that was 1998 when my buddy Tony said it. February of 1998. And so that's, God, 23 years now. […]

So in the past, which collaborations with other artists have stood out to you and who would you like to collaborate with in the future and why?

Well, you know, I had a couple of really good friends that I've done a lot a lot of work with with poetry events and my first book, my buddy Mear One, did the cover: “I'm Alive in Los Angeles” in 2006. […] A really amazing collaboration that happened, and it was something I never expected was -I wrote a poem about Judy Baca’s mural, The Great Wall of Los Angeles. And Judy Baca liked the poem, and these musicians who work with her ended up taking my poem and putting video footage of my poem, her mural over music. […] It's definitely one of the coolest collaborations that I've ever been a part of. And it happened very organically. I'd written the poem and somebody who knew her, heard my poem and sent it to her. And she really liked it. And I didn't ask her to do it or anything. They just they liked the poem and they put it right to the music. […] This video is definitely one of the coolest things that I've ever been a part of. […] It's only about three and a half minutes long and you deal with all of Los Angeles. [video link below the interview; N/A] So that has been one of my favorite collaborations because Judy, you know, is maybe the greatest muralist in the history of L.A. or top three, really, you know, and she recently won a five million dollar-grant. They're actually going to expand the mural. And it's just been declared a national monument. So it's a great process, I mean, who would have thought that this art form would be able to be that much accepted and valued after, you know, decades for it probably was so much more of a fight. Yeah, putting it up yet, Judy, back and painting that mural from 1976 to ‘83. It's over 2800 feet long and over 300 at risk-youth helped her paint it and Judy Baca was really good at funding and doing the political infrastructure. She was really good, she had worked for the city at one point in time and the Great Wall of L.A. was actually part of her Master's thesis.

This was officially like allowed by the city?

Yeah. And she had done work in the early 70s, painting murals in East L.A. And she had even been able to unite rival gangs and have them help her paint and. The woman is not only an incredible artist, but she's skilled with interpersonal relations and used art to build bridges. I wrote a really long essay about her that that's going to be in my next book.

So do you think another collaboration with her would be possible in the future, or is that something you are trying to seek?

I'm right now writing about these two women artist Sonia Romero and Kristy Sandoval. You know, poetry in murals, there's a[n] intertwined relationship in these murals, trust me, because they know I'm an Angelino and they know I've been around. I have a symbiotic relationship with these artists, definitely. , and my wife is a painter and a lot of my students at Woodbury are artists. […] But also I have a lot of architecture students and I teach just general education classes. But all these students have to take my classes. And so, I give them a little taste of of murals. I give them a little taste of L.A. history and I used to take – once the pandemic ends, I'll do it again – I would take my students to the top of city hall in downtown L.A. And one of the things that I really believe in is that, no matter what you go into, if you know more about the city, you're going to be better at what you do. Like for a young architect, if they know L.A. history, they're going to be a better architect. Yeah, because they're going to understand the social ramifications, the social implications.

Cool. Thank you so much for all the insight. Is it an upcoming book that's planned? So, can we get any more details on that project and what else are you working on right now?

You know. I'm always journaling and I'm always writing little poems just about my daily life and where I'm at, but these essays, you know, have lately been definitely about neighborhoods, about a lot of artists and people, people making a difference in the city really. I'm writing one about this musician right now named Adrian Younge and in the last 10 years, […] he has produced so much music and his new album is controversial because it's titled “The American Negro” and of course, he's African-American, but he put a cover of somebody being lynched on the album. But he's very much in the spirit of Black Lives Matter. It’s a very political album. […] And Adrian Younge has done collaborations with Gary Bartz, who is a legendary saxophonist. And then also with Roy Ayers […]. And so, Andrew Younge is not only doing his own really great music, but he's recording with some of the giants from the past. And so, I'm writing an article about Adrian Younge right now for KCET. And that's right after I finish his essay on these two women artists, I'm finishing the essay on Adrian Younge. Cool. Well, that sounds like your life is really not only intertwined with the city, but with kind of all of its artists, too. So, thank you so much again for telling us this. It was great to talk to you.

Mike Sonksen is based in Monterey Park, Los Angeles. For more information on Mike and his work, check out the following resources: Official Artist Website

The interview for Art Squat Magazine was recorded in February, 2021. The interview is a transcriptive summary of the recorded version. Additional resources consulted for this interview: Sonksen, Mike: “Letters To My City”, The Accomplices/Writ Large Press, 2019. Copyright for literary excerpts: Mike Sonksen.

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