Carlos Andres Gomez is a man on a mission. The Colombian poet, actor and author arrived in Atlanta from New York City in the summer of 2019 – determined to bring his many gifts to bear in this place he now called home. Winner of numerous national awards, Gomez was already a rising literary star when he arrived.
Then the pandemic hit. For Carlos — like so many artists around the world — that meant shuttered venues, lost opportunities and canceled shows. Yet, over the past two years, he’s managed to author an award-winning book of poems, score a national literary award and launch a spoken word album that was under consideration for a Grammy.
In this Q& A with NEXT Executive Director P. Faith Carmichael, Carlos discusses the weight of the years-long pandemic, the indelible impact on his artistic process, and how these past 24 months have transformed his understanding of his true mission in life.
Carlos: The hardest thing about the past two years is that, for both my wife and I, we’ve been pulled in 85 different directions, each with urgently high stakes. I never realized how precious it is to have time to read and write; to revise and to daydream. And when you don’t have that, as an artist, that’s a really hard thing. I have a dear friend of mine who’s a great screenwriter and we were talking and joking about this. She said, “I do 97% of my writing before I start writing.” It’s true!
These past two years, I’ve had so little brain space to do the most vital part of my creative process, which is just daydreaming and troubling things and chewing things over and going down rabbit holes in my brain. I’ve never experienced such a dearth of that space in my life, so it’s been extremely hard. Harder than I think I anticipated or realized.
Carlos: I mean, I can’t tell any other artist what their role is, but I know what I want my role to be. As an artist, I don’t want to be just the mirror. I want to be a window that people can look through to something else that does not yet exist. Because if we cannot imagine the world that we want, how do we know to move towards it? I think great artists have always done that. You know, Nina Simone is a great example. I mean, Nina Simone was like 3000 years in the future. And the past!
Like all great artists, [they are] truly singular and timeless — but talk about confrontational too in the most fearless and uncompromising of ways. So that’s the kind of artist that I aspire to be, which is to be uncompromising with abandon, reckoning with the moment and then dreaming a world that is not yet here.
Carlos: No, yeah. This is a book that’s been in process for like five years! (laughs)
Carlos: The book basically is aligned with a lot of my work. It interrogates a lot of those fissures and fracture points both within us and outside of us: familial, societal, in every kind of way you can think. And it reckons with homophobia and toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and sexism. Many of the same things my work has always been in conversation about. It was, I think, the week before everything shut down, and I got a call from the editor at the University of Wisconsin Press. He told me that it had been selected by (former U.S. Poet Laureate) Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize, and it was going to get publication. First, Natasha Trethewey is, you know, kind of in my pantheon of writers.
She’s a legend, she’s incredible and for her to pick the manuscript for the prize was amazing and for it to get publication! It was very exciting. But then the world shut down, and the publication date was set about three weeks exactly before the presidential election (laughs). But we had to go through the whole process of getting the book ready for publication in the middle of all that. I mean, there were a lot of challenges, a lot of things that were not ideal. But somehow everything worked out and the book got released. And what’s crazy is I sold out of my first run in less than a month with no live events. Which is absurd! I mean, I didn’t even know if we were going to sell any books. But people were extremely supportive of the book. But yeah, the process has been wild and strange. Like nobody would choose to release a book in the year that featured last year’s presidential election, coinciding with a pandemic. (laughs)
Carlos: It’s just been like a hard spiritual reset overall, reminding me and bringing me back to the central core lessons I’ve always known. But it’s easy to lose track of these in the “hamster wheel” of the world we once knew. Part of me hopes we don’t ever go back to that world in many ways, cause it just was broken. It didn’t work. It was oppressive and unfair, and it did not function.
But I think for me it’s the idea that human beings are infinitely more adaptive than we can possibly fathom. That’s one. And the second thing is, like listen: the people you love most that are closest to you–like that’s the whole game. That’s the whole ball game! So, if I end up not really generating a lot of work for two years, I’m going to be okay. It’s not the end of the world. Take care of your kids, take care of your loved ones, take care of your partner, and take care of your parents. Like that’s the whole point, and the rest of it, we will figure out
Carlos’ most recent project, Fractures, is an award-winning poetry collection that explores multiple forms of oppression and confronts society’s current, most pressing issues.
This year, Carlos also released his debut studio album, Opus, featuring producer Brent Shuttleworth and Grammy award-winning record producer Joe West. Learn more below.