/ Why he’s interesting / A local poet and musician, Washington currently runs the cassette-only label appropriately dubbed Cleveland Tapes and serves as the bridge between the city’s poetry/spoken word and underground rock scenes. He is currently working on a book of essays about African-American writer James Baldwin.
/ Hello, Cleveland / Washington, who moved from El Paso, Texas, to Cleveland in the ’90s, says the experience was a total culture shock. “I went to Cleveland Heights High School, and I hated it. Cleveland is one of those towns where if you didn’t go to junior high with people or attend someone’s bar mitzvah, you’re just not going to fit in.”
/ Music man / Ten years ago, Washington picked up the trumpet and formed Vernacular with local punk heroes Chris Kulcsar and Lawrence Daniel Caswell, whom he met at Cleveland State University. He continues to play in Vernacular and is currently in a number of avant-garde indie rock acts, including the Madame and the Moist Towelettes, LeRoi Da Moor, Dookie Berhinger and New Surah Orchestar.
/ On meeting the late Cleveland poet Daniel Thompson / Washington’s first encounter with Thompson was outside Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry in the early ’90s. “He looked like Santa Claus, and I made fun of him. He snarked back at me, and I told him he should buy my poems because they’re the best poems ever, and he told me they weren’t finished. He said poems are never finished. That interaction made me want to start taking writing more seriously.”
/ The Baldwin connection / Washington and Baldwin were childhood preachers. “I was a preacher from ages 14 to 17 in a Unity Missionary Baptist Church in El Paso. We both had pretty interesting stepfathers and religious backgrounds.”
/ On Cleveland Tapes / “We want to have a collection of artists where we can use the same aesthetic template. We want to give the music away in a clever package so if you go to the website, you can stream it or pay whatever you want for it. We do understand that the people interested in art often can’t afford to pay for it.”