“You have to live life in order to create art”: In conversation with Micah Dawanyi

Micah Dawanyi is a wearer of many hats. Before embarking on his creative journey, Dawanyi was a rising soccer star whose athletic career got cut short due to a series of medical complications. As an author, he writes about the pressing issues he uplifts as an activist and intertwines his personal experiences as an athlete, student, and young Black man. While his debut novel was only published two years ago, Dawanyi has been passionate about writing and storytelling that integrates culture, community, and psychology since his high school years.

Micah Dawanyi is continuously exploring different creative outlets and endeavors. He has worked on multimedia methods such as podcasts and soundtracks to make his readers’ experience with his novels more holistic. Aside from this, he channels artistic prowess by taking charge of his own cover designs. And soon, he hopes to immerse himself in the world of writing further by crafting blogs, articles, and op-eds, along with expressing a desire to get into screenwriting.

Last January, Micah Dawanyi self-published his second novel, Battle Scars & Blossoms: A Journey Through the Mind, his first work of fiction that dives into mental health, cycles of generational trauma, and the dangers of emotional suppression in the perspective of characters of color. Dawanyi is a fervent advocate of the aforementioned topics and issues, and this adds a larger sense of depth to the stories he tells. 

With Reclamation Magazine’s mission of uplifting marginalized voices, we received the opportunity to cover all this and beyond. I had the pleasure of talking to Micah Dawanyi about his two novels, his creative processes, his multifaceted self, and more things that matter most to him.

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Before Battle Scars & Blossoms, you’ve previously written a book entitled Step Into My Shoes. What are some of the main takeaways you’ve had and lessons you’ve learned from the process of writing the first book that you’ve applied to writing your second book?

The biggest takeaway from writing my first book has been to be patient with the writing process. Seeking out instant gratification can easily lead to impulsive decisions. I’ve learned the importance of really putting my 10,000 hours in, trying to perfect my craft. Ultimately, the process is what makes the final product worth it. You can’t skip the process. And I’m glad I learned that when I wrote my first book, because when Step Into My Shoes released, I quickly found out that a book can take you anywhere. My writing can land in anyone’s hands, given the right circumstances. So to me, it’s important to put out quality work. I’d hate to lose someone because my writing isn’t up to par, so I really, really make sure to put in my 10,000 hours.

I’ve also learned to enjoy the process after releasing. A book isn’t like a blockbuster movie experience that captures people for a few weeks before they move on. A book is a “slow burn,” almost like lighting a candle and letting the aroma slowly fill the room. Books can transcend time. You don’t move past a book after a few weeks, especially not at my level. Word of mouth and interest pick up slowly as the year continues, and even into future years. I think about that when I’m writing, and I try to make sure that I choose topics to write about that can stand the test of time. 

Step Into My Shoes was a collection of memoirs, while Battle Scars & Blossoms is a fictional novel. What sparked your interest in writing in a different genre for your second book, and which style of writing have you grown more comfortable with and why?

Funny enough, Battle Scars & Blossoms was actually non-fiction at first. But the writing just felt too predictable, if that makes sense. Too similar to how I wrote my first book. I just felt like I wasn’t pushing new creative boundaries. So for a while, I was wrestling with how to write the book, and then one day, it hit me while I was watching the Disney animated movie “Soul.” That movie inspired me so much. It was a fictional story, but it tied into some really important issues. As I got to the end of the movie I said to myself, “That’s it. That’s it right there. You’re gonna write a fiction [novel].” I turned off the TV and went to my laptop and started writing, and the process was real smooth from there. It’s crazy how storytelling can influence you.

Now with two books out, I definitely think fiction is my preferred [genre], because I can still talk about important issues, but I can also push creative boundaries. There are no ceilings of limitation when writing fiction, and that’s the beauty of the genre. 

For Step Into My Shoes, you started a podcast to discuss the themes of your book. Do you plan to do something similar for Battle Scars & Blossoms? In general, how do multimedia methods enhance your work, get your stories across, and transform your work into a more immersive, holistic experience?

I’m still debating on that to be honest. Multimedia methods of producing content are special because they allow you to peel back different layers of yourself. Like, for example, with the podcast series for my first book, on one of the episodes, I got to talk with one of my guests about being a first-generation American. That’s something I didn’t really touch on in Step Into My Shoes, but I was able to transition into that conversation because of my book. So with utilizing different forms of media, my goal is just to peel back the multifaceted layers of who I am. With this new book, I’m trying to decide how I can best continue to do that. I have a lot more to give and share, so we’ll have to see what I come up with.

You’ve mentioned that Battle Scars & Blossoms deals with topics such as mental health, breaking cycles of generational trauma, and the dangers of emotional trauma. As a Black man, what do these things mean to you, and how are you able to tell these stories in a way that’s wholly your own?

Whew. There’s so much to say about this; I could honestly talk about this for days and days. First and foremost, the three main themes in my book, which you mentioned above, are all found at the same intersection. As a Black man, I’ve seen how mental health stigmas affect my community, which is sad because we have some of the poorest mental health statistics. Talking with people in my neighborhood, listening in on conversations, you can hear how people’s viewpoints are shaped by the internalization of these stigmas. And [some people] don’t even realize it. There was even a point where I didn’t realize it, and you can kind of see that in the book. Noel (the main character) is a lot like the old me, before I came to some important realizations about why mental health matters.

Breaking general cycles of internalizing trauma is also another incredibly important topic. I honestly think that we have become a generation of broken souls, and it’s partly because the ones before us did not break the generational cycle of internalizing trauma. I give grace, because many of the ones before us (parents, elders, etc.) did not have access to the information we have today, and many of them just didn’t have the capacity to examine the depths of their mental state. But someone has to break the cycle, or else it continues. Parents and elders often pass down unhealthy coping mechanisms and mindsets to the next generation, not to mention the fact that many of them project their own unhealed traumas onto their children.

These are the themes you see in my book, through Noel’s journey, how he narrates, and his relationship with his parents, friends, community, [and more]. I just can’t stress enough how important it is to deal with these issues. But I also recognize how stigmatizing mental health conversations can be, which is why I decided to make the book fiction. I felt like it’d be easier to get the message across by embedding those themes in the storyline instead of just preaching at people

When writing and creating, who and what do you have in mind? Let us know where you draw inspiration from and the things or people you dedicate your work to.

My first two books have been dedicated to the people who have played such major catalyst roles in who I’ve become today. That’s my family. But with the writing content itself, I always write for that one person. That one person who happens to pick up my book and needs to hear what I have to say. But when I release my work, I find that the “one person” is actually a lot of people.

As far as inspiration goes, I draw my inspiration from a lot of places. Music, places I travel to, conversations, to name a few. I think the most important source would be God though. I mean, just over a year ago, I was sitting in my bed, and the title “Battle Scars & Blossoms: A Journey Through the Mind” just came to me. Randomly. And I created the cover art in about two days, after I had written down the title. There’s no scientific formula for moments like that.

What can we look forward to from you and your work in the near future?

I’m about to release the soundtrack to my book, and I’m really excited about that. It’s a compilation of all the music that inspired me while I was creating my book, and the soundtrack also follows the storyline and sequencing of events as in my book. Away from that, I’m also going to be diversifying the way I write. People can expect different forms of writing from me in the future. Blogs, articles, [op-eds], I even want to get into screenwriting for visual projects.

Outside of being an author and all-around creative, you seem to be a wearer of many hats: athlete, activist, and student, among other roles. How do these varying roles aid your creative process? Zooming out, how do these roles impact your day-to-day life?

I’ve only been on this planet for two decades, but sometimes I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime. I’ve been in a lot of different spaces as a professional, as a student, as a family man, as an athlete, [and] the list goes on and on. My varying roles and experiences within these roles just give me places to pull inspiration from. They say you have to live life in order to create art. It’s easy for me to pull from my real life when I’m trying to create, because I’ve lived so much. 

I think these varying roles impact my mindset, which in the grand scheme of things, impacts my actual life. Being involved in so many roles at my young age has really just shown me that I shouldn’t place any ceilings of limitation on myself. I’m down to try anything- as long as I think it’s something I can do well. And it’s even more special if I can positively impact others along the way.

At Reclamation, we strive to uplift marginalized voices in all that we do. As an activist, could you tell us about some causes you advocate for and hold close to you? Feel free to elaborate on why you stand for these causes, and let us know how we could get involved, if applicable.

I’m an advocate for equal access, especially for people who look like me. When I earned my first national coaching license, one of the first things I did was set up a program in my community to bring sports training to underserved communities. When I was growing up, if you didn’t have money, you couldn’t train with the best coaches and trainers, which meant you didn’t get all of the best opportunities to succeed. And most of the people I grew up with who couldn’t afford high end trainers were black and brown, unfortunately. The socioeconomic structures in our society intentionally put black and brown people at a disadvantage, and I’ve been well aware of this. So when I became a coach, I decided to try and help fix that problem. 

As a Black man, and as a psychology student in college, I’ve dedicated one book to the topic of racial injustice and one book to the topic of mental health. Through these books (and the exposure that comes from being an author), I’m also granted opportunities to work on social justice projects with humanitarian companies.

If I have any new projects in the future that are of interest to you all, I’ll be sure to let you know. But you all are already doing wonders simply by amplifying voices like mine and other young change-makers.

For your final question, what advice can you impart for fellow young writers and creatives, especially those here at Reclamation Magazine?

Please, please stay true to your authenticity. Never feed into the idea that you have to write how other people want you to write. Just be yourself! Write how you want to. Create how YOU want to. Your uniqueness is what will make your creativity special, because there’s only one you. Nobody else has your voice. Nobody else has your mind.

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Stay in the loop with Micah Dawanyi, his work, and his life through his Instagram.

If you’d like to support and purchase Dawanyi’s novels, visit his Linktree

Featured images courtesy of Micah Dawanyi.

Ally De Leon

Ally is a 18-year-old Filipino writer and graduating high school senior who strives to build and bridge worlds through her words. She's interested in fandom culture, the Internet, the K-pop industry, anything related to the coming-of-age experience, and Filipino-centric issues. When she isn't writing (or dreaming about actually writing), she spends her time on Stan Twitter, Spotify, the Apple Books app, or Genshin Impact.

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