I was recently asked to submit an artist statement to accompany a set of poems that were to be published in an anthology focusing on “art as soul-work,” inspired by bell hooks. I have since pulled the poems from the book as the black man compiling the anthology was condescending and antagonistic toward me after choosing his own title for my statement (but he has a “longstanding commitment to social justice and human rights,” so it’s okay right?). I have decided to share my statement here, untitled.
I am an artist. I am a writer, a performer, and a director. I am a poet, a playwright, and an essayist. I am a singer, a dancer, a presence that make any space a stage and fill a room with my voice. Embracing these titles as my truth has been a challenge as this world has conspired to let me live believing I cannot truly be these things. But I was born an artist, a maker, a creator.
Though I started journaling and writing fiction in elementary school at age 7 or 8, I drifted away from creative writing to focus on AP exams, theatre, and friends as I got older. By college, I had almost completely stopped writing anything but long papers and occasional journal entries when I had the time, usually only when I was off campus traveling or over breaks. Although the overwhelmingly white theatre was usually unwelcoming to me as a black person since I started performing in middle school, I stuck with it. In high school, I danced in a showchoir, performed in musicals, sang in talent shows, won awards in theatre competitions, directed plays, stage managed, and helped build sets. In college, I was president of a black theatre company and started a hip hop and R&B a capella group alongside directing, producing, stage managing, and performing. I was also the only black person on two national tours with my theatre company and had to consistently fight for space and funding, but bringing stories to life on stage felt something like home.
After graduating with my degree in Sociology, I worked for youth non-profits and stumbled upon opportunities to do perform and create on the side. I encountered more spaces that emphasized devising, creating, and presenting new work for and by black people. My passion for making spaces for marginalized people to share their stories and make their voices heard grew. I eventually enrolled in an MFA program focusing on theatre for youth and communities. However, after focusing so much on others, I realized I needed to come back to myself. I left my program to focus on forging my own path as a writer, performer, and educator creating work with and for my people.
Writing allows me to express myself, to exist, to take up space. Performing allows me to live in ways I often feel unable to as I am forced to navigate white straight spaces. While I’m a musical theatre kid who knows all the lyrics to many showtunes, I feel most connected to the shows that speak to my soul. The work I make as a writer, director, performer, collaborator, mover, and thinker is healing for myself and for the other artists involved. My focus as an artist is on collective and individual growth through sharing and building community. Theatre and writing allow me to tell the truth. As I move through life and through my roles as educator, organizer, entrepreneur, and researcher, I remain certain that I need to create art to breathe.