Words to Live By: Mike Wiley

This segment features interviews with authors, artists, and community members.


June 15, 2021

Mike Wiley

Mike Wiley is an actor and a playwright and works to bring educational theatre to young audiences and communities across the country. His production company, Mike Wiley Productions, uses theatre to highlight key events and figures in African American history. His recent works include a one-man play based on Tim Tyson’s memoir “Blood Done Sign My Name.” He has also written several plays for ensemble casts. Mike Wiley is a dear friend to Book Harvest and a member of Book Harvest’s Authors’ Circle. He is also the father of two boys.

Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?

First thing that pops into my head is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Huge fan of that book, and then the follow-up Super Fudge. They felt like stories that were close to my heart. Judy Blume illustrated what felt like my life, on one hand. On the other hand, there were parts that were so different from my world.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I was actually slow to reading. Programs like Book Harvest brought me into the world of enjoying reading. I would go to an afterschool program called RIF (Reading is Fundamental) and spend time learning to love books.

I also learned the joy of reading books aloud and having them read aloud to me. Reading is more fun when done together, and when you are sharing what you are reading aloud. I don’t get carsick, so I read out loud in the car while my wife is driving…even more now that we have kids. I love to make reading a group effort.

Mike & Jordan Wiley (originally filmed circa 2013)

It sounds like that love of reading aloud might be what led you to become a playwright and performer...

Yes, I love creating voices when I read. That’s what I love about reading to my kids – creating those voices and imagining what the author might have been thinking. Not just the voice, but the posture, the tone…I love to think about those things and act them out. My kids do it, too. When my 12 year old reads Harry Potter out loud, he does it with an English accent.

What book should everybody read before they turn 18?

That’s a tough one – there are so many. Lord of the Flies is one of those books that should be read, merely because it’s a cautionary tale. What groups think can make a situation spiral out of control.

As a father, I can use Lord of the Flies and try to teach my kids not to go the way of “the group,” but to do their own investigatory research. Blaze their own trails. Find their own routes. If that route leads them to a tribe, that’s great because they’ve done the work and found where they belong. But I don’t want to teach my kids to “go along to get along.”

What kind of books are on your bookshelf?

Most of the books are on my bookshelf are because of the work I do as a theater documentarian. I have a ton of non-fiction on my shelf right now. But also, Randall Kenan’s last book If I Had Two Wings. There are two Octavia E. Butler books on my shelf, which are science fiction – I love a good science fiction book. There are some James Baldwin books that I’m itching to get to. And several of my friends’ books like Local Souls by Allan Gurganus.

What are you reading currently?

I am reading a western called Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale. He also writes a TV show Hap and Leonard. But the book itself is great and I’m in the last couple of chapters. It’s about a black cowboy, which is fantastic.

My family has been working through Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch. It’s basically about a biracial LatinX kid in Texas whose family is devastatingly poor, and his mother and stepfather treat him terribly. His abuela treats him well but he doesn’t live with her. The book is about him navigating middle school labeled a poor kid, specifically being on the free lunch list and other things that paint him in a particular light, which all make him very uncomfortable.

My wife and I believe in trying to read books that teach really great lessons. Wonder by Raquel Jaramillo was another one of those books that we read out loud to our kids because of its great message.

Other than in the car, what is your family’s favorite place to read?

We have a king size bed, so the whole family will pile into our bed at night and read together.

Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?

I’m gonna go back to my childhood – an old series of books that I love called The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. I also read these books to my children. The Great Brain is set in the late 1800s in Utah. Basically Little House on the Prairie meets a family that has three sons. The middle kid is the smartest of all of them, and he’s always figuring out ways to create inventions, solve problems, and make money. The books are at times mischievous, but the things that he comes up with eventually become really beneficial to everyone. Like when he taught a kid how to defend himself from bullies.

If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?

Alex Haley, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston. If one of them said no, I’d invite August Wilson.

Do you have a favorite quote from literature? If so, what is it?

When I perform Blood Done Sign My Name, which is an adaptation of Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name, there is a quote I reference by Bernice Johnson Reagon: “When moving through your life, and you find yourself lost, go back to the last place where you knew who you were.”

It works in a fundamental way when you lose your keys, but it works in a cerebral way. When you are lost in your emotions, it’s a great thing to do.


We’d like to thank Mike for for being a friend to Book Harvest and for answering our questions. You can read more about Mike on his website at www.mikewileyproductions.com.

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