Welcome back to BIBA! Today I have the pleasure of sharing a recent interview with our 2022-2023 Shirley Graham DuBois Creative-in-Residence, Angel C. Dye! Angel is a poet, a publishd author, an HBCU grad, PhD candidate, and lover of all things purple! Get to know Angel and enjoy!
BIBA: Can you talk about your journey to becoming a writer; how you got started and/or if you had a particularly encouraging mentor that set you on the path?
Angel: I remember picking up a pencil to try my hand at creative writing at about 10-years-old. I was a voracious reader as a pre-teen and teenager (this has carried over into adulthood in more ways than one), and I did my best to imitate the novels I was reading at that time. As I approached middle school, I somehow found my way to slam poetry. I've never considered myself a slam poet, but I would spend hours on YouTube watching Def Poetry Jam and Brave New Voices competitions, and the young poets on there were close in age to me. I thought, 'These are my people. I want to do what they do, make something impactful out of words.' A lot of life transitions happened for me as a pre-teen and teen--moving states and starting new schools, experiencing eviction and homelessness--and all of those scary and difficult things led me to writing. I wrote and entered contests at school and won some of them and realized that poetry was something I both needed and enjoyed. In college, my amazing mentor, Dr. Shauna Morgan, encouraged me to go all the way with poetry. She saw potential in my writing and my academic performance and really inducted me into a community of writers and scholars that I am still very much a part of. I have her to thank for so much of who I am."
BIBA: Can you share a bit about your creative process? What's your ideal creative environment?
Angel: One thing that my friends and colleagues can attest to is my seriousness about the color purple. I have purple items around me at all times because the color inspires me so much, and I have taken some subconscious vow to only write in purple ink. It has become a personality trait at this point! Ha! Aside from that, I am a night owl and I often write and journal and pray late at night. It is quiet and still then and all of the day's events are present with me, and somehow that often brings forth new ideas. I have never had a strict writing schedule because poems do not flow to me that way; they come when they are ready, usually without warning. My iPhone is always near and so is a pen because sometimes a poem or a fragment will nudge me when I am waking up or showering. I try to listen in those moments and allow whatever words are beckoning me to just come without forcing them or trying to make them neat and perfect."
BIBA: You wrote a book! I just ordered (Order Breathe from Central Square Press). It seems like Breathe was an outlet to work through some difficult things and attempt to heal. Can you talk about how that came about and maybe any surprising discoveries along the way?
Angel: Thank you so much for supporting my work! That always means so much to me. Breathe was certainly a very raw and unfiltered offering in a lot of ways. What many people don't know is that that collection is not a set of poems I wrote and published in 2021. It was released in fall 2021, but the poems are pieces I've written over the last five years or so. My wonderful publisher at Central Square Press, Enzo Surin, reached out to me after I finished my MFA in 2019 and just encouraged me to gather up the poems I had been working on over time and see if they fit together in an organic way, and they did. I shared poems about my experiences with sexual violence and poverty and an incarcerated father in Breathe, and I was afraid. Afraid that I was exposing too much, afraid that there would be backlash, afraid that people would look at me differently if they knew how many scars I'd been hiding. What I learned is that people appreciate, and even admire, honesty more than anything. The collection was not met with judgment at all. It was met with care and affirmation and love. Folks relate to the experiences I shared, and for me that makes my vulnerability worthwhile. To know that the meaning-making I am attempting to do as a poet is resonating with people is very rewarding and it motivates me to keep digging deep.
BIBA: How did your experience at Howard, an historically Black university, inform your artistry?
Angel: This is such a fitting question just after our first in-person Howard Homecoming in two years! My love for Howard can't even fully be put into words. I struggled a lot there. It was an uphill battle financially to finish my English degree. And yet, I had the time of my life there. I was "nurtured in love," as one of my former professors says of my experience at Howard. Howard is where I first began to identify myself as a poet. I was writing before I got there, but it was there that I read and learned about this long legacy of black artistry and creativity that defines people of the African diaspora, and I began to see myself as part of that. I was reading Robert Hayden and Amiri Baraka and Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez in my classes, and I was performing my own poems at open mics and hosting a monthly open mic at my local coffee shop job. Howard is called "The Mecca" for a reason. There you are surrounded by intelligent, beautiful black people from every corner of the world and you realize that you are being prepared to live in a world that doesn't always look like that, but you leave Howard with enough self-confidence and knowledge and community to know that you'll be alright even when you are the only person who looks like you in the room.
BIBA: How did you hear about COOS?
Angel: Like so many things in my life, COOS came to me in a very full-circle way. I met opera singer, composer, and musician Dr. Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa in fall 2018 while we were both in graduate programs at the University of Kentucky. Our sisterly, scholarly, and creative connection was immediate. We have since collaborated on performances and art and really built a network of artists and friends around us. In 2020, Tanyaradzwa became the inaugural Shirley Graham Du Bois Creative-in-Residence with COOS, and she brought her unique musicianship and style and grace to the role as she does with all things. It was she who strongly encouraged me to apply for this year's residency. I actually told her that I didn't think I was qualified. She literally scoffed! Thank goodness for her encouragement and faith in me and in my art. I would not have the honor of serving in this capacity if not for her and the pathway that she has forged. I am beyond grateful and excited to be collaborating with COOS over this next year, and I look forward to all of the art we will make and all of the fun we will have doing it!
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