Raven Rakia is a freelance journalist covering cities, police, prisons, and the environment. Her investigative reporting has been published by VICE Magazine, VICE News, The Nation, Matter, Truth-Out, The New Inquiry, Gothamist, Dazed Digital, and others. She tweets at @aintacrow and is currently raising money to cover her travel expenses for her investigative work.
Raven Rakia! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
No. Well, sort of. I'll self-publish my own work without compensation. Or, say, participate in a writer's collective where everyone is all benefiting equally. But for an independent magazine where the editors and/or founders are gaining (as Susie and Manjula say) "institutional cultural and economic capital" built off of unpaid labor from writers? No. And for a media outlet making a profit? Hell no.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
Technically I write in all of my jobs, but not all of it is the type of writing I want to do. But I'm working towards a point where my freelance journalism will be sustainable. Part of it is lowering my expenses (read: finally leaving New York), and another part is building the relationships I need to have for consistent work that pays well. A major part is demanding the freelancer's equivalent to a living wage and refusing to work for pennies. For me, low rates are just as much of an issue as free labor.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?
There's never enough time to write. Thankfully, the day job I have now is part-time and somewhat flexible. But really, I hate talking about my day job. Talking about it bores me as much as doing it. I'd prefer to pretend it didn't exist.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
I just assume it does. My first draft is always a tangled mess in an attempt to just get it out, and then I begin to look over it and figure out how to actually shape it into a piece of writing.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
When the words start jumping out on the page at me and stop making sense — then it's time for someone else (my editor) to read it.
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
I've been writing ever since I can remember, but I wouldn't call it a calling. Writing is the way I survive mentally, and therefore, physically. But being a working writer was a choice I could make because of the resources I had, and the responsibilities I didn't have. It's also a choice I may eventually be forced out of for economic reasons.
What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
I read The Bluest Eye in sixth grade — way too young — and it completely went over my head until the very end, when I realized I had totally missed it. I probably read Monster by Walter Dean Myers at the appropriate age, but it still haunts me today.