February 11, 2010

Poetry Jam Executive Producer Bruce George Def-ines Success

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According to Bruce George, executive producer of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, true success means doing “something you eat, drink, sleep and breathe.” George’s lecture last night in Warren Hall, sponsored by BOLD, centered on finding one’s path in life and achieving true success.

The Sun sat down with George after his lecture to ask him some questions about his personal road to success:

B.G.: I’ve always had a love affair with psychology, and I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. I started out as a clinical counselor and then I went to Niagara University and graduated with a B.A. in psychology. I became commissioned as a counselor and everything resonated from there. I later went into sales and from sales I got into the whole poetry scene and founded Def Poetry Jam and one thing led to the other.

SUN: How did you go from sales to poetry? They seem like two totally different platforms.

B.G.: Well, I was a poet before I was a salesman. I’ve always been a lover of words. My mother was a big influence on me when I was younger. From knee high to when I was a giant she would use these exotic words around me and I was fascinated by them. As a result of that I started writing poetry at a very young age, and then I got into hip-hop, you know coming from the Bronx and all, and I was always around hip-hop artists. And from there, about 13 or 14 years ago I got into spoken word. One thing kind of fed into the other … One day you just catch yourself really being passionate about something and you just hold on to it and don’t want to let it go. It was just one of those things where I knew that this poetry thing was going to work and I waited for an opportunity and when it came I held on it and I did not let it go for dear life. I was relentless to make it come to the forefront. My mindset was if Russell [Simmons] didn’t bite, somebody else would. Bottom line.

SUN: You also mentioned that success is cyclical and full of ups and downs that you have to negotiate. What kinds of downs did you face in trying to get the show started and how did you negotiate them?

B.G.: I faced resistance. Not everyone believed my dream, not everyone believed my espousals, but I kept telling myself that it was a numbers game –– that’s all everything really is. If you reach enough people, knock on enough doors and make enough calls, somebody is going to bite. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “If you can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse-trap than your neighbor, then the world will make a beaten path to your door,” you know. Don’t chase Oprah, let Oprah chase you.

AB: Tell me about those first years of Def Jam. Was it a rocky start or did things take off smoothly?

BG: Well we started off with a four-episode pilot from HBO and it was amazing. It was phenomenal. We won a Peabody award for the first and second season, which is akin to like an Emmy. It was a blessing.

AB: Why did you choose Mos Def to be the host?

BG: I chose Mos because he’s the bridge between hip-hop and spoken word.

AB: What was his initial reaction?

BG: He was basically like you know, “If I do this it can’t be wack, it’s gotta be hot”. And from that first episode he was off to the races.

AB: Did you have any doubt that the show would be successful?

BG: I knew it was going to be successful. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind.

AB: Now that the show is over, what is it that you are trying to do next?

BG: Well, first off, I don’t “try,” I do. “Try” is a word I don’t even allow in my vocabulary…Right now, though, I’m focusing on theater, film and continuing to be myself. My goal is to be the first literary mogul, nothing less than that.

Original Author: Andrew Boryga