AT: I think the celebration of nerd culture has empowered nerds of every [culture]. We also have popular blerds. He doesn’t really seem like an outsider now, but Kanye West and his album College Dropout [were] really very, very different from hip-hop at the time. Now we have people like Frank Ocean. I think the last barrier in hip-hop is queer culture, and I think it’s just about individualism and [how] the idea of that individualism expresses itself in every culture, not just white culture.
TR: You’ve talked about being an outsider and being bullied in school. What used to happen to you?
AT: One of the things I remember the most — this is not a joke, this happened; it was like an after-school special — kids literally joined hands and danced around me in a circle. This is pre-Facebook. I’m sure there’s a Facebook equivalent to dancing around somebody in a circle [and] taunting them, but that actually happened to me, literally, in the real world.
TR: If you could go back in time and talk to your younger, nerdier self, what would you say?
AT: “It gets better” is absolutely what I would tell her. And I also would tell her to stick to her guns. I don’t look back and wish that I was a different kid, because I feel like odd kids end up trusting their own instincts. They don’t ever have to check their decisions against the mob because the mob doesn’t care what they do.
TR: So your new book is all about self-inflicted wounds. Care to share one of your stories?
AT: No, you’ll have to buy the book. But I will tell you philosophically, the book is about the pursuit of failure. Hopefully it’s just a funny book, but it’s also about the pursuit of failure as a means to success. I’ve heard so many people say, “I didn’t try that because I was afraid I was going to fail.”
I think to really do something interesting, you have to do something knowing not just that you might fail but in all likelihood you will fail. And fear of failure should not ever inhibit somebody from pursuing something that they want. And in fact, it’s better to stipulate that “this is going to go terribly and I may get injured, but I’m going to do it anyway,” because that’s the only way you grow.
Genetta M. Adams is a contributing editor of The Root. Follow her on Twitter.