The Journey

 

I’ve taken an unconventional path to the work I create. And an unconventional path means a different kind of biography. So dive in with me.

Let’s start at the beginning.

My mom and dad had a kid, me… then adopted another kid (older) and then another kid (younger).  In a matter of 3 years I went from being an only child, into being a middle child. Fun. You can peep a story about that here: 

This also marks a turning point for me.

I fell deeply in love with comic books. I’m dyslexic and I was struggling with reading, but comic books changed all of that.

As a young kid I got into Hip-Hop. At 15, I wanted to be the next Puffy Daddy. So I got a job to pay for studio time. I was dedicated! I skipped my Sr. Prom to go to the studio:

In High School, I struggled because of my dyslexia.

I didn’t go to college, because I was really tired of knowing I was smart, but not being able to prove it. I also left hip-hop behind, I just felt like there wasn’t a place for me in the art-form any more. Two things happened around this time, that changed the trajectory of my life.

I became a flight attendant.
A friend of mine gave me a PBS special by Bill Moyers, “The Language of Life” It was a series about poetry.
I’d never heard poetry like that before, and it completely changed my life.

From that point, on I know what I wanted to do. I started writing poetry and performing. This worked well with being a flight attendant. It meant, I could perform all over the country, easily. I got involved in poetry slams and toured the country, sleeping on couches, serving peanuts, slinging poems.

I started playing with the form.

Trying to tell stories in the poetry I wrote.  A young director, Dan Solomon (RIP) saw my work, and asked if we could make a movie short. It would be the first time, I started thinking about how to stretch the work I was doing into  different mediums.

I did well in the world of Slam Poetry. Ranking 3rd in the Nation in 2000, Appearing on Def Poetry Jam, and performing on CBS’s Final Four Pre-Game show.

At some point, poetry began to morph into monologues. Monologues became plays.

I fell in love with theatre and playwriting. From solo performances, to big ensemble plays that weaved poetry and dialogue.

Work took another turn.

I entered the public radio talent quest. A contest created by PRX and CPB to find new shows, ideas and hosts for Public Radio. Aaaaaaannnnddd I won! (With two other people, but this is my story not theirs.) Winning that contest launched my show State of the Re:Union!

I never looked at myself as a journalist but to make this show, I knew I’d need to surround myself with top notch journalist to teach me, but also implement my vision. So I hired some really amazing people who added to my ideas, and executed it. We sought to tell the story of America, from the ground up. We did the damm thing.  SOTRU kicked ass. Here’s some my favorite episodes.

Also around this time, two big things happened.

 

I started writing a novel called “Springfield”a story about a magical neighborhood in the south.
I finally returned to my first love, comic books.

Since I was a kid I wanted to write them, but to break in comics as a writer takes money; you’ve got to hire artist! I worked with two amazing artist to make these two books.

IMPERFECT
PLANETFALL

SOTRU ended due to funding. I’m good storytelling, at bringing a team together, and setting a vision. Fundraising… not so much. I didn’t want to let the show go. I loved what we were doing and the people I worked with, but I couldn’t go on barely getting by.  The show, the staff, and the listeners deserved better, so with a heavy heart, I sunset the show.  All good things…

While SOTRU was in it’s last season I started moonlighting hosting the pilots of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Honestly, I thought, “No way this show ever gonna get made, and no way they’ll want me as the host.”  The pitch just sounded crazy. CIR was looking to make the first weekly, hourlong Investigative News Program. Everyone in the industry thought they were crazy, ‘you can’t put out deep dive journalism weekly, it just isn’t done.’ And the second thought is, I wasn’t an investigative journalist. But some how we did it. And we are still doing it.  Somewhere a long the line, I became a journalist.

The comics I’d worked on setting me up for something bigger.

My self-published comics  caught the attention of DC Comics, and I became a member of the DC Comics Writer’s Workshop. The class was an opportunity to learn how to write comics with Scott Synder one of the all time great comic book writers. It was an amazing experience, that introduced me to my new family of creatives that has strengthened my work in every way.

Nightwing DC Comics, Pencils and Inks: Siya Oum, Colorist: Cris Peters

What’s next?

Well, remember that novel I started writing Springfield? Well, I decided it should be a graphic novel because the story was so visual. That story kept getting turned down…until one day it didn’t. Hopefully, I can tell you the whole story soon. Until then, stay tuned.

GET CONNECTED

Al Letson is a Renaissance Man. Get in touch.