In the Daily newsroom exists a leaning stack of prerelease books, relegated next to a filing cabinet. Too often I would give the pile no more than one passing glance. But in a flitting once-over, I recognized a certain name along one spine: Questlove.
“Questlove wrote a book?” I wondered aloud. “Sign me up.”
Little did I know that this was actually book number four in Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s tenure as an author, following a memoir, an ode to Soul Train and a book about chefs. His latest release, “Creative Quest,” follows an entirely different trajectory. The book offers readers insight into Thompson’s personal creative process — as frontman of The Roots, as a DJ, as a producer, as a writer — and those of other acclaimed innovators (J. Dilla, Björk and Ava DuVernay appear frequently). It is up to the reader to turn these insights into what they desire. Is this a book of lessons? A list of resources for creative minds? Or is it simply a form of entertainment for someone who likes to read? Thompson doesn’t tell us, but he doesn’t have to. Deep down, we know.
“Creative Quest” is divided into nine sections (should we call them chapters? Thompson doesn’t, so I won’t). They are ordered chronologically, the way the steps in a how-to book would be, and each depicts a unique tenet of the creative process.
Part one, The Spark, ponders what makes a person or idea creative. “The issue isn’t whether people can tell that you’re creative,” Thompson writes. “If that’s what you’re worried about, wear a beret. The issue is whether you can connect to your own creative impulses.”
The majority of the book, the meat of the sandwich, delves into the nitty gritty of creative living. Thompson talks about the roles mentors may or may not play. He writes of creative stagnation and its web of potential outcomes. He explores possible definitions of the creative network, the pros and cons of imitation and curation and the yin-yang relationship of success and failure. He gets more abstract than that, while still allowing for varied interpretation of his more anomalous philosophies. It’s your personal creative quest after all.
Then comes part nine, the final section, aptly titled No End. Here, Thompson reminds readers that we are, in fact, mere specs in the creative landscape of the universe. Anything we do has already been done in some variation; in the future, it will be redone in another. He does an impressive job of infusing personality into this section without making it emotional. In his way, Thompson is stating what we already know. In fact, he wants us to know that we already know, that even this realization has already been made, by each of us, in our own heads.
“There is species-wide programming,” he writes, “and then there’s individuality, and the overlap between those two opens up a space for creativity. Live in that space. I’m here to. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
Each section offers up Thompson’s two cents, but, as I’ve said, he never tells us how to think of them. Rather, at the end of every section lies a blank sheet of graph paper. No prompt is given, only blank space. More than anything, that’s what “Creative Quest” provides readers: space to be. Whether that being is creative in a prescribed way is not his concern. In his mind, the simple act of existing is enough to stir up genius.
To answer my earlier question, yes. Questlove wrote a book. Or maybe it’s not a book. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.