The arc of the hero’s journey often has a foundation in real life. A call to adventure interrupts the proceedings of everyday existence, and we are launched into new changes, conflicts or creative undertakings that define the road ahead, marking us as entirely new individuals by journey’s end. Local rapper-turned-novelist Avery Write knows this journey well. Around this time last month, he was called to be the opening act for Lupe Fiasco (under the stage name Aerial) on the same day his first book was published. For him, the road ahead will be filled with excitement and challenges alike, but it took a good degree of conflict to push him this far—for most of his life Write has battled with depression.
Write’s book, titled Heroic, is a young adult novel that seeks to take on this challenge in young people’s lives; it depicts a half-feudal, half-futuristic world in which heroism itself has been outlawed, sadistic gangs run rampant and young people risk harm to their friends and loved ones for daring to stand up against the order of things and do a good deed. Write makes a point of showing the inner turmoil of these characters in as realistic a light as possible, acknowledging that sometimes, your emotions will best you, and your undertakings won’t always end in triumph.
Heroic is part of a planned multimedia project of three books and three albums, each complementing the other with unique insights into the characters. Although the idea has been swirling around in one form or another in Write’s mind for years, it took a recent introduction to the Hamilton soundtrack to open up new possibilities; one month ago, at the Lupe Fiasco show in San Francisco, he introduced plot elements from the novel into his stage performance for the first time to a mesmerized audience.
Though Write is always a few steps ahead when thinking about his art, it is well worth checking out his last album as Aerial, 2014’s Revivolution, a showcase for his preternatural flow and a signpost for the creative power yet to be unleashed now that he has combined his hip-hop craft with a love of the superhero mythos.
How did you conceive the idea for Heroic?
The whole idea behind the book is that even the strongest people can have weak moments or be overpowered by their emotions. And my mission is for issues like depression to be brought into the light, so for the hero to go through things like that, and have those emotional lapses, I felt was really important. The time in my life when I began writing was really hard, I’d just gotten out of a relationship, and I’d also gotten kicked out of the apartment I was living in. It was bad, but it was also a time of transformation. At the time I was reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which tells you how you can think yourself into and out of success. While all these terrible things were going on, reading this book put things into perspective—that things are happening for a reason. When I first had the idea, my first thought was, “Who do I think I am?” I didn’t know anyone that had written a book, I didn’t know how to go about it. It’s a pretty hard task to accomplish, and it seemed pretty frivolous at the time. I realized I’d almost thought myself out of success, so then I told myself there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t do it.
The book depicts a world in which heroism has been outlawed. Can this be a parallel to the world we live in?
Growing up, it’s really hard to do good things in a world where it’s easier to fall back into doing what the rest of the world does. Anyone who does a good thing has a lot more detractors than they would supporters. That’s the way the world is. The world is built upon an idea of normalcy. People who are trying to do good things are often looked at as crazy—people are often telling them to not do things like that, that those are the kinds of things that get you killed, and it’s true. You look at some of the greatest heroes, like Martin Luther King; he died for doing the right things. There are family members, parents and friends that will literally try and stop you from doing good things so that they won’t lose you. That’s the feeling I wanted to bring into the world I created.
There’s an interesting blend of dystopia, fantasy superhero and samurai mythology in the book. What influenced you growing up?
I’m a big superhero nerd. Heroic is actually an acronym for Helping Everyone Reach Our Inner Character. Growing up, I feel like we connect with characters on the TV screen. For me it was Spider-Man or Captain America. I liked what they stood for— with great power comes great responsibility. The values that superheroes have are very important— they speak to a generation. While writing the book I watched both Amazing Spiderman movies with Andrew Garfield. I watched Samurai Champloo and Afro Samurai, which is a big inspiration for Heroic, because RZA did the whole soundtrack for that anime. I wanted to place a lot of values from those shows within Heroic.
Has writing always been a part of your life?
In middle school, I used to write poetry, but I wasn’t old enough to know that I could use poetry as an outlet. I knew of writing, but not as a release. I didn’t know it could be therapeutic. I didn’t start creating music until my senior year of high school. I didn’t have coping mechanisms when I started going through depression. That’s another thing kids need to be taught: how to cope with it, instead of dismissing it.
Does conflict drive creativity for you?
One thing that [Think and Grow Rich] taught me is that you don’t begin to grow unless you’re in a position where you have to. When you’re in your comfort zone, there’s no reason for you to do anything else except stay where you are. There’s a part where the author talks about an army that sailed to war against another country, but before they went into battle, they burned all their ships. The concept was “You have to win, or else there’s no going home.”
How was your experience opening for Lupe Fiasco and performing parts of the Heroic project live?
Lupe Fiasco is my favorite rapper of all time. I already had tickets to his show in Sacramento when they called me three weeks beforehand. I had to do rehearsals really fast. When I first got the opportunity, I questioned whether or not I should even do it, because as close as we are to finishing the album, I’d never performed any of those songs before; no one’s really even heard them because I’ve kept them so close to the chest. The book wasn’t even out yet. I was working two jobs and going to school, so there wasn’t a lot of time to be creative. Getting this show allowed me—it forced me—to become creative. Hamilton had been a big influence at that point, so I structured the show a lot like a play. My featured artists on the album were playing the characters, so they full-on took over a role. We got on stage and acted the story out while rapping or singing. When you do a hip-hop show, you usually gauge how well you’re doing based on how many hands are up or heads are nodding, but because we were doing a play almost, there wasn’t a lot of movement, but every eye was locked on to us. I didn’t know what to expect, but people would really react at certain moments. It was amazing.
Avery Write’s Heroic is available through Amazon.com or on the author’s website, Averywrite.org, where you’ll also find links to his music as Aerial.