Madison-based poet and activist T.S. Banks’ work is in constant conversation with identity. Banks has navigated the space of being black, trans, queer, and disabled in the city of Madison, which is often times unsupportive of people with these intersectional identities. Banks splits his time between writing and working as a mental wellness advocate and ally.
T.S. Banks describes Madison as two different cities. On one hand, there is the affluent downtown district with bustling startups, restaurants, and a prominent and primarily white university. On the other hand is the place where Banks grew up. He recounts being bullied and pushed aside by schools and peers who saw him as different. “I don’t understand how I could be living in what white folks would say is the best city or one of the best nations to live in,” Banks says. “I’m not seeing that here when there is food insecurity at home, not when sometimes I am wondering what shelter I’m gonna have, and as I became disabled, how could this healthcare system fail me, why are these institutions trying to kill me? I questioned that at a young age.” As he grew up and began to come into his own Banks became more and more aware of the systems of oppression at work in a city like Madison.
After spending some time at college in Iowa, T.S. Banks found himself back in Madison with a collection of poems tied to his soul. After an extensive surgery, Banks found himself bedbound for quite some time. This provided the time, space, and resources to put the poems onto the page. With the help of a friend and editor Matthew Lewis, Banks took on the task of self-publishing his first book, 2017’s Call Me Ill.
Alongside the stress of self-publishing, the process of writing about personal traumas and oppression can be a challenge. While Banks’ work is healing and restorative to the reader, the process of writing about trauma and coming to terms with identity can be harmful at times to the writer. Banks’ time as a mental wellness advocate pushed him to realize that he needed extra help to get through. He also wanted his work to help other people enduring similar experiences. “By actually opening up and talking and not being silent, I would be helping someone else and that has been a driving force for me,” Banks said.
Banks’ role as a community advocate has lead him to help with mental health crises, activism, and even creating an art collective. Loud and Unchained Theater Co., which centers around black, queer, and trans artists. His next book, Left, which explores the “process of leaving and growing” is due out this spring. He will be reading from it on March 1 at Room of One’s Own. Banks sat down with us to talk about his journey in self-publishing, navigating trauma and mental wellness, and his advocacy in the community.
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