By Jet Jonesy (Twitter @JetJonesy)
On a fair April afternoon, I met with Cornell F. Evans, Jr. to discuss his first literary endeavor, Biography of a Mental Muscle: Turning a Negative into a Positive. Evans, a barber by trade, sat comfortably in Freeman’s Barber Shop, formerly owned by his grandfather whose affectionately known as Mr. Charley in the book.
Evans’ autobiography, set in post riotous and disenfranchised Washington, D.C., chronicles a storied and troubled past. He speaks candidly of his dalliances with the legal system, a stint in the military, a true love story, and an undying need to overcome his adversities.
Although less than sixty pages, Evans’ freshman effort is gaining worldwide attention. He has garnered the interest of movie producers and actors from HBO’s hit series, “The Wire”. Self-described as being “from the curb,” Evans is most proud to be published. With only one creative writing class at Fairmont State University and a collection of journals, Evans describes his talent as “natural.” His greatest accomplishment may have been to dedicate every day of his life, for three years to telling his story, his way.
JJ: When did you discover you wanted to write your story?
CE: I want to say maybe a year after I got home from federal prison.
JJ: How long did it take you to complete the book?
CE: I started in 2008. It took me three years.
JJ: Did you take any breaks while you were writing?
CE: I was consistently writing, seven days a week, for three years. I never stopped writing. I never gave myself a break. At the time, I was a single dad and I still continued to write in spite of my kids. They understood my dedication and motivation to my material.
JJ: There are references to boxing in the beginning of the book. How do you think your training as an amateur boxer played into finding your mental strength?
CE: I get asked this question all the time. Yeah, it did play a major part in my life, as far as discipline, agility, stability, mental toughness. You know, it taught me all of that. Circumstances outside of the ring I had to deal with the same format as the streets.
JJ: How did you decide on the book title?
CE: “Mental Muscle” came to me through God. Through prayer.
JJ: Were you an avid reader? Favorite author? Favorite Book?
CE: My favorite author is Donald Goines, (African American writer, 1937-1974) but my favorite book is “Blow” (written by Bruce Porter, published in 1993). I read it five times. I read it for the first time in 2000, twice in 2002, 2003 and 2006. I admired the character’s drive in Blow. He didn’t let nothing or no one stop him.
JJ: Do you see writing as a career?
CE: I’m gonna let this here catapult what I wanna do, what direction as far as being an author. My goal is to be a full time author.
JJ: So, once your story has been told, will you move on to fiction?
CE: NO! (emphatically). People want authentication. They don’t want… Well, let me speak for myself. I don’t want to read anything that’s fabricated. I like giving people the real thing.
JJ: Is there anything you would change in the book?
CE: No, because it is all done. Everything that is in that book has been done. Why sit there and act like I would change anything, because what happened in that book is what got me to where I am right now.
JJ: Which was the hardest part to write?
CE: Resurrecting a lot of deceit, betrayal, and love.
JJ: There has been talk on blogs about your book becoming a movie. How is that going?
CE: The production of the film is going on right now. They have already been filming. They filmed four sets already last year. The movie is called “Second Chance” based on the book and it is two-fold. It is about two dirty cops and me, and my life, and how we meet at a head.
JJ: Who is playing you, your wife, Angie?
CE: The individual that is playing me right now, he fits me like a glove. He has been casted. It spooks me how close he is in character.
JJ: What’s his name?
CE: Damond Young.
JJ: Who would play your wife, Angie?
CE: Right now they are still trying to find someone to play Angie. She is one of the hardest characters to cast. They are still looking for “Angie.” (His voice trails off)… Angela Bassett. I wish she could play her right now, in this movie. That would be awesome. The producers said they are having one of the toughest times trying to cast that character. We would like to give some local talent a chance first.
JJ: What did you discover about yourself while writing this book?
CE: You can find places within yourself that you never thought you could discover.
JJ: What message would you like to give your readers?
CE: You don’t have to slice your wrist. You don’t have to jump off a bridge. You don’t have to hang yourself. You don’t have to shoot yourself in the head. You don’t have to jump in front of a train. All you need is some drive and some mental muscle. You can do anything. That’s my whole story. Pick up the pieces. What you drop? Pick it up. Put it back together.
Evans is currently living in the D.C. area with his wife. His youngest daughters, mentioned in the book, are honor students. One attends Howard University and the other is completing high school. He continues to spend his days as a barber and other waking moments as an author, working on his sophomore effort. He promises the follow up to “Biography of a Mental Muscle: Turning a Negative into a Positive” will be more salacious, filled with the details and “meat” his readers desire. To request book signings, speaking engagements, and appearances contact Evans’ publicist Chantel Bivins at 202-271-9672.