“What I can say is, living over here my entire life, I’ve never had an opportunity given to me from the area, only examples of how to mess up, and what I didn’t want to do.”
Def Jam recording artist and Long Beach native Vince Staples just announced the launch of a program for the youth of Long Beach, known as The Youth Institute. Partnering with councilman Rex Richardson, Staples aims to provide access to opportunities for his community.
Press Telegram reports the institute will be offered at Hamilton Middle School, and will include filmmaking, graphic design, music production, 3D printing and product design for 20 young people. The City of Long Beach will dedicate $10,000 to the program out of their North Long Beach Educational Fund, in additional to Staples' donation. "We’re all hands on-deck to make sure we have the best opportunities for our youth this summer,” Richardson said in an interview.
Staples emphasized that he wants the youth of North Long Beach to feel acknowledged, and to know they matter. Staples grew up there and often makes references to the neighborhood in much of his music. Watch the video for "Norf Norf" here.
Long Beach Unified board member Megan Kerr elaborated on the program by ensuring that hard skills in STEM will be offered in addition to social and emotional learning. In addition to the Youth Institute, officials have also announced increased job opportunities and summer programming for young people.
Staples isn't one to shy away from social issues in his music, watch the video to my personal favorite, "Senorita," for a thoughtful meditation on power, politics and privilege.
Staples' latest project, Summertime '06, has been described as brilliant, unapologetic and honest. Listen to it here.
“I think the most important thing is opportunities." — Vince Staples
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When the word 'poetry' emerges in conversation, most people immediately refer to whatever they were exposed to in secondary school. The usual suspects come to mind: Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou — the list goes on. When it comes to performance poetry, well that’s a different story. There was a time when the term was unheard of, unless you knew whose basement to be in at a particular time, on a night not explicitly pronounced. Slowly but surely, the act of reading poems aloud in front of people started picking up speed and transitioned from basements to center stage. Poets went from spitting in basements to reciting in the streets, bars, cafes, on Broadway, on TV, in films and now on the internet. Granted, I’ve bypassed a lot of the history, important names and locations that are attached to this art form only to get to this particular point in time. Performance poetry was once something that was confined to a mere few in secret, and is now accessible to everyone via the internet — and it's going viral! Just ask the folks at Button Poetry.
YouTube houses many of these performances. There are a plethora of channels that are dedicated to providing the highest quality videos of your favorite spoken word poems, and they do a darn good job of it. But there is one brand in particular that has recently been the number-one provider of these videos and has become somewhat synonymous with the idea of performance poetry.
Fellow poet and the Assistant Director of Button Poetry, Dylan Garity, speaks with Blavity's Creative Society about reaching millions of viewers, HBO Def Jam Poetry comparisons and upcoming projects.
Blavity: Some of our readers might not be familiar with Button so if you could, would you mind telling us what Button Poetry is, who’s part of it, and what the goal is for the company?
Dylan Garity: Button Poetry is a multimedia poetry production and distribution organization based out of Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota. To steal from our mission statement, our goal is to showcase the power and diversity of voices in performance poetry. By broadcasting the best and brightest performance poets of today, we hope to broaden poetry’s audience, to expand its reach and develop a greater level of cultural appreciation for the art form.
Sam Cook is the Executive Director of Button Poetry, and I’m the Assistant Director. About 10-20 other folks work with us on a relatively regular basis, filming around the country, editing, working on our website, managing social media, working with our books and our book contest, etc.
B: Congratulations on all the success. Button hasn’t been around that long and you’ve managed to gather a very large and dedicated fan base. Did you ever think it would get this big this fast?
DG: We always believed in the potential for poetry videos — and performance poetry in general — to have bigger, more consistent audiences, but it definitely happened faster and to a greater degree than we expected. Button officially was founded in 2011, and at the time our primary goal was to host audio-recording parties and accept audio submissions, and make collaborative poetry albums that poets from around the Midwest could go and share at their own venues (Here’s a link to the unlisted first-ever video on Button, which was a call for those submissions). So relatively small potatoes, though a project that I still think was really cool.
B: It seems like Button Poetry videos are making a habit of going viral. Do you remember the first poem on the channel that went viral? What was that like for the company?
DG: The first thing to go “viral” was Denice Frohman’s “Dear Straight People,” filmed at the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. It happened about a month after the video went up, and I remember standing around a screen with Sam and some other folks just watching the view count shoot up exponentially, marveling at it and immediately talking about what it might mean for videos in the future. It was the first tangible proof for us of what we’d always believed might be possible, though again, we had no idea how far it would go.
B: A lot of the footage you capture is from national poetry slam competitions. At these competitions there are hundreds and hundreds of poets from all over the world, reciting some of the most important, breathtaking pieces of work anyone has ever heard. How on earth do you pick which poems do and do not get posted? I know it has to be difficult.
DG: At this point, we try to get as many people involved in the process as possible. An important philosophy for us is that showcasing diversity isn’t just about who and what is on the screen, but who and what’s behind the screen, in both the creation and curation processes. Now that we tend to film most if not all poems when we’re at the big national tournaments, which can easily be hundreds of pieces in just a few days, we often end up posting only about 10% of what we get on camera. We pare down that original footage in a number of steps, so no one person or group of people are having to consider all of those hundreds at once.
B: A lot of times in music there’s a backlash from the go-hard musicians and fans when the underground scene starts to go mainstream. There’s a sense of culture and integrity they feel has been desecrated when certain songs or artists hit the radio, for example. The same can be said about poetry. It was something that was a very underground, unique experience that was meant to be heard live, and now anyone can watch it if they are near a screen. What are your thoughts on performance poetry being so accessible now and what that does for the culture?
DG: I think there are definitely positives and negatives to it. The biggest potential negative I see is a potential homogenization of writing style among young people; while we have wildly varying styles of writing and performance on the channel, a lot of the stuff that goes the most viral has some strong similarities, and I hope that young or new writers who are watching our videos take the time to watch and read more than just the ones at the 'top.'
At the same time, we’re really starting to see, and not just because of Button, poetry and performance poetry filter into popular culture in some pretty unprecedented ways. Poets collaborating with major musicians, being featured on The Late Show and PBS, on Buzzfeed and dozens of other internet platforms. At the end of the day, the positive of this kind of beautiful and necessary work reaching tens and hundreds of millions of people who it couldn’t have before outweighs everything else.
B: The exposure you provide for performance poetry is at such a grand scale some people I know say Button is this generation's HBO Def Jam Poetry. Would you take that as a compliment or would you rather be put in a different lane?
DG: I would absolutely take that as a compliment. Many of us who work with Button came up watching Def Poetry on HBO, and it so heavily influenced and continues to influence a whole generation of poets whose work might not exist without it. I don’t think we do the exact same thing — one major difference being that we’re an artist-run organization broadcasting other artists. I hope that we’ll continue to expand and reach more and more people, but hearing that comparison is truly exciting and flattering, and I hope we can live up to it.
B: You guys don’t just record poems. You’re publishing books now, too! What else are you up to? Any upcoming projects we should know about?
DG: Actually, we’ve been publishing books almost as long as we’ve been doing video! We ran our first chapbook contest in the summer of 2012, which led to our first book, Aziza Barnes’s brilliant me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun. We have forthcoming books from Jacqui Germain and Hanif Abdurraqib — and some more to be announced soon. The rest of our current library can be found here.
In terms of other projects, we’re working on expanding more heavily into audio this year, and also will soon be offering a subscription service with deals and additional content beyond just what’s on the Button channel. Follow us on social media or our mailing list to keep up to date about all of that.
B: Between you and I — and you can tell me because we’re cool — what's your favorite poem?
DG: I’m gonna cheat and not choose anything from Button. The poem that’s struck me more than any other over the last couple years is Ross Gay’s “A Small Needful Fact.” It’s so powerful, so concise yet lyrical, vital and timely, yet also timeless.
B: What can people who love Button do to help you keep doing what you do?
DG: Watch and share videos. Attend poetry shows. Read books. Write and encourage young writers and help make poetry and performance poetry basic parts of American — and international — culture, just things that average people read and watch and listen to and experience every day.
In terms of the organization more directly, we’d encourage folks to check out the books from our amazing authors at the Button Store, and as mentioned earlier, we’re launching a subscription service soon so folks can offer direct support to Button long-term and access additional content and deals.
B: Do have any advice for those who are starting out with their own projects that they want to build into something great?
DG: It’s gonna be tough. We’ve worked really hard and also gotten really lucky at points, and it’s still really tough. Form a clear idea of what you want to do and make concrete plans for how to get there — advice I would give to our past selves a hundred times over — but also don’t get too bogged down in the details from the start or you’ll never get moving. As evidenced by what I’ve said about how we started, your initial project might morph into something entirely different than what you conceived of, and that can be a beautiful thing.
We know what Dylan's favorite poem is, now let us know what poem you're really feeling right now. Leave a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
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The "profitable creative" is an organized creative. It's someone who balances their artistic insight, love for design and aesthetics with time and project management.
So, how do you monetize your creative process? Follow these steps:
Identify your weakness
Like Badu said, artists can be sensitive about their sh*t. But to get into new habits you have to get out of your own way. If more than a few people are saying that you lack follow-through or that you're not promoting yourself enough, or properly, it's time to take a self-assessment and be ready to look in the clouded mirror.
Find someone genuine and authentic that's not afraid to tell you like it is. Many musicians hire a publicist because they have an overall vision for their brand. A lot of creatives hire accountability coaches or project managers who help them determine how and where to best utilize their time. Invest in yourself. You think Kanye could have made Graduation if it wasn't for a team of engineers, marketing professionals, graphic artists and a solid management foundation? Do you think Vogue would have made it off the press all of these years if it wasn't for a skilled editorial team? You might not be at Vogue or working on Yeezy's campaign but chances are you are holding on to the grand ideas you have for your business like most creatives do. Find a support team that will hold you accountable for setting those plans in motion. I have friends that come to my house and see walls of Post-it notes and taped index cards. It probably seems crazy to them but it's a way for me to get my thoughts out constructively. That opens a dialogue. The rest is about execution.
All great artists have a routine for figuring out what works and what doesn't and pushing themselves through creative blocks and the mayhem of the thoughts that go through their heads. Profitable creatives understand that at the end of they day your art is a business. Treat it as such. Identify your weaknesses, define them as areas of opportunity and bridge the gap! Step into your greatness.
Build a system
Every great company or project works best by establishing a self-managing "system for success." Everything from engineering to business has its own form of art. It's the domino effect. Have project flow sheets for yourself. Make daunting tasks as easy as possible. I use Google forms now prior to onboarding. It's a great way for me to cut down the time on free consulting and collect all of the information about a client prior to our first phone conversation. It also helps me input data into my sales tracker so I can see where my areas of opportunity lie. Let's say you're a photographer. What does your sales/project timeline look like? How can you cut the time it takes for you to get paid for a shoot? Have a plan of action.
For example, if someone inquires about booking you for a shoot:
Step one: Send your prices
Step two: They pick a date
Step three: Check your availability
Step four: They pay a deposit
Step five: Plan a day to shoot
Step six: Edit the photos
Step seven: Deliver
Step eight: Collect the balance owed
There are other helpful system tools that will allow you to get paid sooner. If someone inquires via text or Facebook you can send them to your website where they can see your prices and book online directly. This means you're not spending your time going back and forth with someone who will never make it past step four of this particular service model. I use Square Appointments to manage my schedule, it means I'm not constantly going back and forth with people and the whole process makes it easy to book.
That system on its own works well because it sends reminders the day of the shoot and keeps the client's payment information on file to ensure rapid payment processing. Using online invoices such as Square or PayPal also ensures that you're not chasing people around. Using DropBox means you can send a link to the photos digitally versus the overhead cost of flash drives and CDs. Remember, this is just an example of good practices in one particular creative industry. Nine times out of 10 there's someone in your field doing what you do well because they utilize a system that eliminates the tedious tasks and allows them to focus on creating. Find that person, research them and don't be afraid to reach out for advice and pointers. The worst thing they can do is say no, but most of the time people appreciate being acknowledged for their hard work and are flattered by your aspiration to reach their level of success.
Make organizing your time and abilities fun. Try a new awesome project journal where you start your day color-coding and sketching out your time. Planner decorations are becoming their own art form. For some creatives, it's a release to take that time to make a mess of a busy schedule into something beautiful.
You can also utilize technology for this. Try some of the cool new apps that allow you to set timers for working on projects. If you know you have 5 hours to edit 500 photos, make it fun by dividing up the time and giving yourself small rewards.
Oftentimes creatives are the kind of people who get overwhelmed and catch the "I don't know where to start" bug. Find the tools that will allow you to push through that feeling. That's when you'll really tap into your greatness. There are weekends where I schedule an hour after each session to edit photos. Sometimes I'll knock out four shoots and get at least 20/30 edits to each person before the day is over.
This is creative Nirvana.
Push yourself to get there, celebrate it when it happens and when things get overwhelming, remind yourself of what it feels like to get things done versus how overwhelming it can be when you're weeks behind on projects and clients come knocking at your door.
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"There is no need to cower, because in the midst of gun showers, there will be Slumflowers"
Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of multimedia creative agency, Street Etiquette, released a fantastical short film titled Slumflower. The film tells the story of a creative young boy, Jerimiah, who by way of his imagination, sprouts out of the confines of inner-city New York. Slumflower does a stunning job of weaving critical commentary on socioeconomic issues through an engrossing and captivating storyline.
Jerimiah’s imagination proves to viewers that despite being caged and confined, growth prevails. “The projects represent all of the fears and misconceptions that America has concerning the lower class/poor and we wanted to play a part in changing that destructive narrative with Slumflower,” said Joshua Kissi in an interview with Blavity.
Street Etiquette tactfully dresses each character of the film in a suit; forcing viewers to rethink their preconceived notions of those living in the slums of America. Does Jerimiah’s whimsical world of suits make viewers pay more attention? Or relate deeper? The film highlights the effervescent humanity in American slums that is oftentimes dismissed and devalued.
“Our intention was to flip the perception of everything people are conventionally comfortable with when they're watching Slumflower, creating the ability to imagine and see something beautiful grow from a hostile environment,” said Kissi.
When asked about the urgency of black storytelling, Kissi shared; “[n]ow more than ever it's important to tell our own stories because black culture and black consciousness have finally met at an intersection; especially with the power of the Internet… [b]lack culture acts as a multi-cultural, multi-faceted inclusive umbrella to all types of people to be inspired by our very own stories.”
“We want to encourage black creatives across the globe to take pride in their ideas... [u]ltimately don't be afraid to pick up a pen, choose a different camera lens, and begin to tell your story because it matters.”
Watch the full film below.
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Known as the "I'm Tired" project, this photo series aims to "highlight the significance and lasting impact of everyday microaggressions and stereotypes." The project features the bare backs of a variety of individuals from different identities. Each individual has a different stereotype or microagression painted on their backs. Check out more of their photos on the project's Facebook or Tumblr.
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In my poetry classes in college, I wrote a lot pieces that reflected a contemporary writing movement called gurlesque, “a term that describes writers who perform femininity in their poems in a campy or overtly mocking manner, risking the grotesque to shake the foundations of acceptable female behavior and language.”After reading my work my professor gave me a list of journals that she thought would like my work and, excited at the prospect, I submitted to some of them.
Annnnd many of them declined my work. I’m resilient, but it did take a toll on how much I felt I fit in with the poetry world. I stopped writing for a while, but in becoming part of Blavity found myself wanting to get back into it and try submitting again. This time around I wanted to find journals specifically for diverse and Black voices. I thought I could find more inclusiveness and representation in the process and final collection.
The culmination of my search is this list of 24 journals seeking out voices from underrepresented groups, and some seeking African American voices specifically.
Have fun submitting!
For Diversity in general
Aaduna - Seeks multicultural voices and works to build a relationship with them in order to foster continued success and support in their careers.
Apogee - Wants to support societal change by publishing “exciting work that interrogates the status quo, providing a platform for unheard voices, including emerging writers of color.”
Cecile's Writers - Believes “that whether intercultural writers write about it directly or not, something profound about being intercultural is voiced in their writing.”
Diverse Voices Quarterly - As the name implies, this publication celebrates work of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious background.
Duende - Committed to work coming from underrepresented groups in today’s U.S. literary ecosystem: writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder, and /or otherwise from communities overlooked by literary gatekeepers.
Festival Writer - Dedicated to innovation and inclusion, publishes traditionally marginalized groups.
Kalyani - With each issue focusing on a specific theme that impacts women in diverse ways, this literary magazine publishes women of color exclusively, especially those who are previously unpublished.
Kweli - With a name that means “truth” in Swahili, this journal highlights the community and kinship of minority groups by including many experiences of writers of color.
The Offing - Publishes work by people of color, women and gender non-conformists, and members of the LGBTQIA and differently abled communities that challenges and experiments with literary and artistic forms and conventions while understanding the foundations of such conventions.
Polychrome Ink - Acknowledges that “WE LIVE IN A LARGELY PHOBIC WORLD. WHERE THE BASIS OF DECISIONS...ARE CHOSEN, IN PART, BY PEOPLE WHOSE BELIEFS BELONG TO A SERIES OF -ISTS AND PHOBIAS” and wants to normalize diversity by including writers outside of WHITE-CIS-NEUROTYPICAL-ABLED-HETEROSEXUAL AMERICA.
Moko Magazine - This one is a little more specific in that it seeks out work that reflects the diversity of the Caribbean heritage and experiences.
Muzzle Magazine - Not only does this mag want to unite diverse voices, but it has special issues with a particular theme occasionally, such as The Sex Issue and its current issue on mental health.
Spook Mag - A biannual publication that is described as a sort of literary mixtape and “an ever-evolving dialogue between past and present.” The poetry editor is Warsan Shire, who I see quoted often on social media and saw at a poetry reading (which was an amazing experience by the way).
Nepantla - A new poetry e-journal being curated by Christopher Soto in collaboration with The Lambda Literary Foundation with the mission of nurturing, celebrating, and preserving diversity within the queer poetry community. Though I couldn’t find their submission page, the Facebook has work you can check out for inspiration.
Black Fox Lit Mag - Founded by three women of color, this journal accepts all kinds of work but especially fiction from underrepresented styles and genres.
Specter Magazine - “Publishes new art, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from writers often forced to the margins of literature.”
For Black Writers Exclusively
African Voices - Strives for artistic and literary excellence while showcasing the unique and diverse stories within the African Diaspora, as well as providing community arts programs.
Blackberry - Features black women exclusively with a goal to “expose readers to the diversity of the black woman’s experience and strengthen the black female voice in both the mainstream and independent markets.”
Callaloo - Provides an outlet for creative writers who produce texts in different languages in the African Diaspora and serves as a forum for literary and cultural critics who write about the literature and culture of the African Diaspora.
Kinfolks Quarterly - Accepts poetry, photography, essays (personal, video, narrative, lyric, etc.), literary criticism, art criticism, reviews, extended meditations, flash fiction, and paintings that reflect the infinite and varied experiences of blackness.
Obsidian - Since 1975 this publication has showcased the poetry, fiction, drama/performance, visual and media art of Africans globally.
Black Renaissance Noire - Reflects modern Black concerns through essays, poetry, fiction, photography, art, and reviews.
Mosaic Magazine - Explores the workof writers of African descent, as well as including lessons plans based on their content and mission with each issue.
Black Magnolias - Like Nepantla, I’m not sure how up to date this journal is (their current issue is shown as being from Spring 2014). Even if submission are closed, it can be beneficial to check out the past work that examines and celebrates the social, political, and aesthetic accomplishments of African Americans, with an emphasis on Afro-Mississippians and Afro-Southerners.
BONUS - The Writers of Color twitter page is constantly posting and retweeting opportunities for writers of color in many genres and styles. Check out their site as well.
*This list is not all inclusive - here are a couple sites with additional opportunities:
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