briyana d. clarel

writer. performer. educator.

Filtering by Tag: reflections

title of your artist statement

photo by Axel Jenson

photo by Axel Jenson

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.

#virgotendencies: toward green, grounding, and growth

photo by Briyana D. Clarel 

photo by Briyana D. Clarel 

When I read my horoscope as a kid, the virgo descriptions sounded nothing like me. The internet said I was supposed to be uptight, methodical, clean, neat, and tidy. But I was messy and I procrastinated. Astrology didn’t resonate with me so I didn’t give it any thought for years.

However, the queers I’ve met in Austin have pushed my attention up to the stars and planets. I finally looked up my birth chart on multiple websites and after checking it over and over, I’ve finally committed most of it to memory. My skeptical self found truth in the descriptions of my sun, moon, and rising signs, as well as the rest of my chart. I’ve gotten a little hooked. I check my horoscope and pay more attention to the moon.

A friend recently looked over my chart and described me as “a soft boi who needs a lot of attention.” She’s not wrong. Astrology has helped me better understand myself and more importantly, accept myself. There are parts of my personality that I’ve tried to stifle or hide, but somehow if I think of it as a #virgotendency, it feels more acceptable. I wish I felt this way without the aid of astrology, but we (black/queer/girl/human living in a capitalist society) are told to be only one way. But, I love lists. My google calendar and gmail are color coded. My bookshelf is organized into a rainbow. I need things to be scheduled, clearly communicated, and intentional. All of that is okay. 

A few weekends ago, I finally got out into Austin nature. The lake, the Greenbelt, a park at Mueller. The colors are what let me know I’m in the right place. All the green. The green of the leaves, the cactus buds, the grass. The sunshine. The flowers–the wildflowers and the ones that were landscaped in. The baby peaches.

I remembered I need to be outside more. Not just walking down the street texting half the time, or sitting outside a coffee shop staring at my computer, but really outside–surrounded by the growing living things humans bulldozed and dug up and knocked down, my phone used only to save these moments for later, actually appreciating what’s around me. Understanding myself as an earth sign has reshaped how I see myself as a human. I love nature, plants, and the earth (my favorite ride in Disney on our senior trip was Living with the Land), and I need to feel grounded.

My mom recently reminded me that I didn’t handle change well as a child. I spent the whole summer before ninth grade anxious, up all night stressing about leaving my Quaker school and starting at the public high school down the street. Change terrified me. While I’ve traveled and switched jobs and generally kept life moving, I feel better when I feel rooted, grounded, and connected to something bigger than the changing landscape.

As I’m learning to embrace my #virgotendencies, I’m also remembering to seek what and who grounds me and can help me grow. 

My succulent lost a limb a while back. Usually this kind of plant tragedy would elicit tears, or at least me sadly texting everyone about it. But I discovered another tiny bud on the other side of the plant. I migrated the plant from outside my front door (maybe the elements were too much) to the windowsill in my bedroom, where the most sun enters my space. My sadness faded. I thanked the succulent for reminding me–sometimes you need to lose something and let it go, so you can move on and grow.

I’ve been growing through a big transitional period over the past few months as I back away from the graduate program that prompted my cross-country move, focus more on writing and performing, and plan my next steps. I’m keeping grounding, growth, and the color green in the forefront of my mind. What will make me feel most stable? Closest to the earth? Less like I’m flailing in the wind or being swept away? What will allow me to grow? And where can I be surrounded by cute happy plants?

May we all make time for the green, grounding, and growth we need.

on halves & new beginnings

It’s April! I’m 26 and a half (plus 28 or so days). I have half an MFA. And I’m finally starting a real blog.

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While I’ve been on tumblr since 2010, I’ve never used it as a regular outlet for my writing or thoughts. I mostly reblog photos of beautiful black people and enraging news articles about systematic oppression. Some of my poetry and thoughts are up at black & bendy(catch it before it’s gone!), but I have a lot more to say than I’ve been allowing myself to share. I’m too used to keeping things to myself, especially my feelings, life updates, and thoughts that are anything other than my usual rage at the system.

I started writing as a little black girl with glasses growing up in South Jersey. In elementary school, I loved the Amelia’s Notebook series–probably the main reason I started journaling. There are boxes in my closet full of journals dating back to when I was 8. I write to process, to reflect, to create stories, and to tell the truth. In high school and college, research papers and AP tests took over my life and I stopped writing for myself. Lately, I remembered that I need to write, that writing has always been essential to my survival. So, I return to writing–poems, plays, prose, essays, rants, and lots and lots of lists (#virgolife).

I’m creating this blog for myself and for y’all. Too much of my work lives only on my computer, on my phone, or in the cloud. My Google Photos is home to hundreds of photos from trips and events I’ve never posted online. As a former student, I presented a lot of my writing in class and at conferences, read to audiences of mainly white people. This blog is for me to free some of these pieces from my personal archives and to share more experiences and thoughts with the world. 

I hope my sharing can open doors for all of us. Doors to new ideas, thoughts, and possibilities. Closing doors in the past few months (mainly leaving grad school halfway through my program) pushed me toward finally truly living my best life–the one I’ve always wanted. I’m writing, starting The Starfruit Project, performing (catch me in this cabaret in May), and growing into my best artist self.  

Here’s to halves and to new beginnings.

peace, love, and blackhistoryforever ♥

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