Blavity's Creative Society is always aiming to highlight people and work we find inspiring. We're excited to curate this list of artists who make beautiful cover art for some of our favorite albums, mixtapes and singles. Peep our list below and let us know who we should be checking out next.
1. Brandon Breaux is most recently known for Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book. His work spans genres. Check out more here.
2. Nicky Chulo, who collaborated with Christina Mudarri for Goldlink's cover art on the The God Complex.
3. Dewey Saunders did an amazing job on Anderson .Paak's Malibu artwork.
4. Ricardo Cavolo's trippy creations and videos accompanied Kaytranada's 99.9%
5. Matthew Stone made FKA Twigs' beautiful cover for M3L155X.
What are your favorite album covers? Let us know in the comments below!
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Creative Society wants to help you get fresh this summer. I put together this list of black-owned fashion lines you should check out to broaden your horizons. Support these alternative and creative clothing lines by checking out their work below.
1. The Brooklyn Circus, founded by Ouigi Theodore, is a brand inspired by iconic American fashion.
2. Daily Paper is an Amsterdam-based clothing label founded by three friends, Hussein Suleiman, Jefferson Osei and Abderrahmane Trabsini. Daily Paper combines inspiration from African prints and contemporary fashion.
3. Belgian pop star Stromae recently dropped Mosaert, an unisex clothing line inspired by prep and African prints.
4. Most known for their Real Friends hat, KnarlyDB and Jazerai Allen-Lord created God Bless the Fresh.
5. Joe Fresh Goods and Vic Loyd created well-known and loved line, DBM.
6. Rahyma is a Toronto-based, African-print-inspired clothing line founded by Rahyma A.
7. Philadelphia Print Works, widely recognized for their 'School of Thought' line, has a beautiful array of conscious tees, hoodies and crewnecks.
8. Nakimuli, founded by Tennille McMillan, is a clothing line that aims to empower women of all shapes and sizes by offering clothing that is affordable, accessible and fashion-forward.
9. Monif Clarke created the line Monif C, a plus size clothing line that is inspired by her Barbadian roots.
10. Rue107, founded by Haitian-born, Marie-Jean Baptiste, aims to give women the opportunity to express themselves authentically.
11. Desiree D’Aguiar combines her love of fashion, art and beachwear by designing the beautiful swimwear line Winifred Taylor.
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CRWN Mag's mission is to diversify the natural hair narrative by beautifully illustrating the idiosyncrasies of black women's experiences with their hair. We had the pleasure to sit down with the President and EIC of CRWN Magazine, Lindsey Day, to talk more about natural 'hairstories,' black beauty, and the need for black publications. Peep the interview below.
BLAVITY: Can you tell us more about the impetus behind creating CRWN Mag?
Lindsey Day: We created CRWN because we saw a ton of conversation online and in our personal/professional networks surrounding natural hair lifestyle; but we saw a void in the marketplace when it came to publications that are immortalizing our hairstory in print. In addition to conveying a beautiful aesthetic and authentically representing the diversity of black women, we want 'CRWN' to serve as a model for creating sustainable, for-profit businesses that serve our people. We see CRWN as a platform through which makers, creatives, professionals, stylists, influencers, etc. can speak directly to their target audience and catalyze real, substantial business opportunities.
B: What are your thoughts on the pressing need to challenge beauty norms?
LD: The skewed, unrealistic beauty norms present in mainstream media are exactly why CRWN exists. We’re sick of seeing two or three 'types' of black women represented in publications and onscreen. We’re sick of hearing about “good hair” versus “bad hair” and light skin versus dark skin. We don’t think that our subjects should be contoured and airbrushed beyond recognition. Quite the contrary: We’re here to celebrate and edify black women in their natural state.
Black women are so diverse and a huge segment of our sisters are consistently ignored and/or misrepresented. CRWN serves all types of black women, and our goal is that every woman who flips through our pages will be able to see themselves represented in some way. From Harlem to Compton, from London to Johannesburg – CRWN is showcasing the natural beauty of our community and redefining existing norms for good.
B: Describe your personal experience with embracing your natural hair and beauty, and CRWNMAG's relationship to that experience.
LD: Every black woman in the US (and beyond) has a hairstory – or several! Growing up as a bi-racial girl in California (with a black mother from Illinois and a white father from Boston) made me aware early on that I was "different.” I didn’t see many people who looked like me in the media, I struggled to find products that tamed my thick, frizzy hair; and getting my hair done was typically a traumatic experience. I noticed that the products in the 'ethnic' aisle were geared toward straightening or smoothing black hair, and the other products were overly drying or way too thin to effectively define my curls.
I noticed that so many of my friends who rocked presses or perms in high school and college made the transition, too. My mother transitioned after being diagnosed with breast cancer and decided against putting unnecessary chemicals into her scalp. I’ve seen her and so many of my friends truly come into their own through their transition to natural hair, but that’s not to say that it hasn’t been a challenging process! Sadly, so many women have been taught from birth that they don’t have “wash-and-wear” hair and that the only option is to wear it straight.
Working on CRWN has been like therapy in a way. It’s so easy to put up walls and mental blocks based on perceived differences. But when I started speaking to sisters about CRWN, I realized that so many of us have felt alienated because of our hair, background or upbringing. Whether I’m speaking to an East-African American woman who’s been told she doesn’t have "normal" black hair or features, someone who’s biracial, a young lady with kinky hair but light skin and eyes or someone who’s dark-skinned but “talks white,” according to her peers – it’s evident that there are so many norms and assumptions placed on what it means to be black in America. And when you don’t see yourself accurately represented in media, it’s very easy to feel like you’re abnormal. However, the reality is that we’re more interconnected and diverse than ever before – and that’s something to celebrate!
There is power in sisterhood, authenticity, knowledge of self and self-love. There’s power in taking ownership of our stories and instilling new norms and values in future generations. Those truths are exactly what 'CRWN' stands for.
CRWN isn’t about my hairstory or my mom’s hairstory or my friend’s hairstory, it’s about our collective hairstory.
B: How much of the natural hair movement do you think is associated with a shift toward holistic health and healthier lifestyles as a form of resistance?
LD: This is actually a subject we’re discussing in Issue One of CRWN Mag, from a sociological perspective. A large segment of our readership – and many of our brand partners and advertisers – are deeply committed to holistic, natural lifestyles. We view this as a very important and impactful discussion that doesn’t receive enough attention.
However, we also realize that the 'natural hair movement,' so to speak, is as diverse as the individuals who are a part of it. Those who pursue wholly natural lifestyles are at one end of the spectrum, and those who rock the “natural aesthetic” via extensions and protective styles are at another. There are still others who wear their natural hair textures, but might be open to using products with chemicals and dyeing their hair. The nuances and variations are endless, and we strive to portray as much of the culture as possible in future issues. We believe that adults should be empowered to make the style choices they prefer, and as a platform, CRWN seeks to document it all. Our mission is to push for a more open, constructive dialogue around what it means to go natural in America, and that calls for openness and appreciation of the shift that’s happening aesthetically, culturally, socio-politically and economically.
B: Can you talk about your creative experience behind crafting this publication? Any advice for black creatives looking to pursue similar projects?
LD: A business is only as strong as the people involved, and as such we strive to work with the best writers and creatives possible. We’re constantly seeking to identify the best talent so that we can partner and share our platform with them.
My business partner, Nkrumah, is our creative director (a.k.a. creative genius!) and oversees casting of talent, design and all of the beautiful visuals that you see on our digital platforms and in our print products. He’s also extremely strategic, so we’re in constant communication; iterating our business model and adapting to new opportunities/challenges on a daily basis. I focus on business development, written content and many of the administrative aspects of the business. We work remotely – Nkrumah in L.A. and myself in NYC – so there are lots of calls, texts and Google Hangouts involved. This summer, we’re also excited to welcome four young ladies to the team in NYC as editorial interns!
In terms of advice, it’s important to be honest with yourself, your partner(s) and stakeholders. To do that, you have to be tuned into your unique contributions to the team and stay in your lane. Know what you don’t know, and find others who have the skills that you may lack.
It’s also crucial to observe culture in order to identify and serve a unique void. Most problems aren’t new, per se, but you can still find fresh, creative ways to address them. Just be sure that your solution is monetizable and scalable (unless you’re happy with it being a hobby). Don’t burn bridges. Ever. Don’t make business personal – you never know when an old contact might become a partner, investor or advocate. Nkrumah and I were colleagues for almost a decade before we became business partners.
Finally, nobody will give you permission to be an entrepreneur. If you have a great business idea, just do it! Nobody has all of the answers – remain flexible and willing to learn.
CS: What has kept you motivated to stay dedicated to the mission of CRWN and all of its potential impact on black women worldwide?
LD: Every time I see a reader interact with our printed zines or speak to a young woman at an event or when we receive notes thanking us for creating CRWN,; I’m reminded exactly why the mag needs to exist. This publication is so much larger than myself or my fears or challenges – Nkrumah and I created CRWN for the love of our people and our culture.
We want to see our (future) daughters come up in an age when they can be openly proud of their natural, healthy hair. We want to see a generation with fewer doubts about their beauty and, in turn, fewer doubts about the value they bring into this world. Through CRWN, we’re documenting a shift in culture, and it’s exciting and humbling to see our readers take ownership of advancing a mission that’s so important to us. Black women shape and influence so much of our dominant culture, and we’re excited about the implications this shift will have on the world as we know it!
Order the first issue of CRWN Magazine here.
On Saturday, May 21st, we’re hosting our inaugural conference about how creativity and technology are changing our daily lives, from our hobbies to our work. Will you be joining us? Tickets here. Use code blavityfam.
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Hip-hop is a diverse genre, but many fans hope to hear women’s perspectives more often in the music. This is one of the many reasons fans should give Sammus a listen. She’s a rapper who began as a producer and continues to show growth in her work. Her latest EP, titled Infusion, shows that her music offers a lot of personality and substance.
In the conversation below, she discusses her creative choices and the wide array of issues spoken about on the project, such as racial stereotypes, the use of therapy and the African diaspora. And check out the premiere of her video for "The Feels" after the interview.
Blavity: A lot of times, people describe artists with terms that the artists themselves may not use or identify with. Because of that, I want to start off by asking how you describe yourself musically?
Sammus: For sure. When it comes to what I make, I’d call it black girl nerd rap. That’s the best way for me to describe it.
B: Cool, that definitely makes sense given what I’ve heard from you before. I’ve been listening to the new EP leading up to now, and something that stands out to me the most is the insight you give into who you are and what you’ve experienced. How important is content to you as an artist compared to the other elements of your music?
S: To me, content is everything. The kind of artist I am, everything has to sound good sonically. But, I’m personally tired of music that sounds great but is demeaning or homophobic. It’s important to me that my music reflects my values, because words matter.
B: For sure, I think that focus comes across clearly in your work. Building off of that, I heard you mention therapy a few times on the first song of the EP, “1080p.” Could you speak about how using that service influences you as an artist?
S: Yes, “1080P” is definitely a standout song. It’s the first song I made for the project, the first one I made after the last EP. When it comes to therapy, it’s connected to my time in school. I’m originally from Ithaca, NY, and I came back to New York to go to Cornell University. I did a PhD program, and a PhD just has so many ups and downs.
For a while, I was caught under the weight of academia on top of a serious relationship of mine coming to an end. From 2013 to 2014, I just wasn’t doing anything right. Therapy helped me out because it allows freedom. It’s liberating to share your experience with someone else. Going through therapy has motivated me to reveal more insecurities in my music.
B: Thanks for sharing that. Another thing that you mention, this time on the song “Mighty Morphing,” is the misconception of what it means to be black and what it means to be white. Was this something you only dealt with earlier in your life or is it a hurdle you still face today?
S: Well, that was a problem I mainly faced as a kid in Ithaca. Growing up, I was told that I was acting white because of how I talked and what my interests were. I was able to move past it when I was in college. I realized that there are different ways to orient yourself in the world as a black person.
Coming out of that, I don’t like being put in a box as an artist, and that happens often to women. A lot of times people label me as a conscious rapper, but I want people to know there’s a lot to me. I like to read, twerk, do calculus and go out with my friends to drink.
B: For sure. Another aspect of your songs that stood out to me is your delivery – from the way you intonate on certain lyrics to the comedic sense of some lines. How intentional is the way you deliver your rhymes? Is it deliberate or does it just happen naturally?
S: That’s a good question, I’m not asked that a lot. As an artist, my voice is still emerging. This project is the first one where my studio hasn’t been my bedroom. My mixer is a guy named Sosa, who works a lot with Homeboy Sandman. We originally connected at SXSW and, once we began recording, we had a long conversation about delivery.
He said that he loved my energy when I performed live, but it didn’t translate to my projects. Since then, I’ve tried to capture my emotions in a raw way. From playfulness to intensity, my delivery’s intentional.
B: That definitely makes sense. Now, I know video games and other forms of animation have been part of your music in the past. Could you explain how this influence adds to your music?
S: Well, I think that interest of mine is a niche that’s becoming cool. Right now, a lot of nerdy personalities are becoming big. One big example is Kid Fury and the success he’s had. I was a ‘90s kid and Nintendo became so big that those games became a large frame of reference for me. I spent so many days playing games with my brothers. And video games were the first place where I appreciated music.
B: That’s really cool. Going back to the EP, one of the standout songs is “Backstabbers,” where you speak about the diaspora and lineage. Could you explain what motivated you to make that song?
S: Yes, those topics were chosen intentionally because I wanted to deviate from my last project and show I can rap about more than just video games. I’m a first generation African-American. My mom’s from the Ivory Coast and my dad’s from the Congo. Growing up, I didn’t feel deeply tied to the culture of the Ivory Coast or the Congo. I chose to talk about my insecurity in fitting in on the song.
I have anxiety talking about issues within my race on my songs because a large amount of my fans are white. I’m weary of how people challenge injustices that happen to us with things like “black on black violence,” which is a trash argument. Yet, I don’t want to overlook the bad ways I’ve seen black people interact. In the past, I was asked things like “did you play with lions as a kid.” We all have shared histories and individual histories and ultimately we’re all trying to heal. I’m anxious to see how it’s interpreted.
B: For sure, it’s a topic that can be spoken about for an hour, even used for a lecture. It’s hard to cover it in one song, so I’m glad I got to ask you about it. To wrap up, what do you hope to achieve with your music moving forward?
S: I have personal benchmarks to reach. One is to be 100% self-sustainable as an artist. I also want to do more workshops and speaking engagements. Ultimately, I want to show that black womanhood is a growing experience. I hope to be an influence on little black girls by sharing my authentic experience. And something I’d love to be part of is a cartoon with a diverse cast of rap women that are bounty hunters.
Make sure to listen to Sammus’ Infusion EP and check out the premiere of her new video below!
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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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You’ve got big plans for this year, and you’ve positioned yourself to make some life-changing moves. That’s great, but what happens when your own thoughts start to get the best of you? You have to be prepared to fight those internal battles that threaten your success. Self-doubt is arguably the worst of these battles. Whether you’re a musician, painter or poet, you have probably experienced the level of doubt known as impostor syndrome.
How impostor syndrome starts
It's that moment when you begin to question your own talent. You start telling yourself that you’re really no good at what you do and that you’ve just had a few lucky breaks. You worry that at any moment someone will discover your secret, and the entire world will know you’re a fraud. This paralyzing feeling is so terrifying that it can send you into a long creative rut or convince you to give up forever.
This is a natural phase, especially for creatives. However, if you want to be great, you have to find ways to nip impostor syndrome in the bud. A few small rituals and a circle of support can go a long way when those tricky thoughts begin creeping into your psyche.
Keep a record
One way to battle the lies you tell yourself is to create your own personal brag book. Grab a small notebook or journal and write down everything you’ve ever done that makes you proud. Make a note of that day one of your biggest influences gave you a shout out on Twitter, or when a local museum featured one of your paintings.
If you prefer, you can create a digital folder chronicling all your awesomeness. Fill it with links to your best work or screenshots of appreciative emails or comments of praise. You can even jot down things in your phone’s notepad.
What’s important is that you keep a record of all your success. Whenever you start feeling like a phony, you’ll have something that proves otherwise. Remembering even your smallest accomplishments can give you a little confidence boost that will help lift you out of your creative slump.
Create a playlist
Throwing on some music while you work might seem like a no-brainer, but impostor syndrome is no punk. It’s creativity kryptonite and it won’t be scared away by the everyday background noise you leave playing in your workspace — you’ll need a special playlist to battle this demon. Start by compiling a list of songs that make you feel invincible.
Much like the brag book, the playlist is all about what’s important to you. Whether you load it up with Peter Tosh or Kevin Gates is entirely up to you. Just make sure it includes every song that has ever given you even an ounce of inspiration. When you’re done building your list, crank it up loud. Once you’re feeling like the most confident, talented version of yourself, get to work.
Don’t stop there. Any time you come across a new song that gives you that ‘unstoppable’ feeling, add it to the list. Eventually, you’ll have a never-ending superhero soundtrack to help ignite your creativity.
If you’re having a hard time pulling yourself out of your creative slump, you might have to call in the troops. Pick up the phone and call someone you know has your back in any situation. Whether it’s Mom, Grandma, or your favorite cousin, you need to hear a word from someone who considers your worst work a masterpiece. Although their praise might be a little biased and completely unwarranted, it’s usually enough to get you back to work.
So, maybe Mom’s cheerleading isn’t nearly convincing enough and your creative engine is still stalling. Reach out to another creative friend or colleague that knows all about your work and who can probably relate to how you’re feeling. These are the people that will tell you to get over yourself and get to work. Knowing that someone just as talented as yourself believes in you can make all the difference.
Find a cure
You can bet that almost everyone in every line of work has had moments where they second-guess their abilities. With artistic types, those moments are probably much more severe. It’s okay to doubt yourself, but it’s not okay to wallow in it forever. If none of these things work, find something that gets you over your impostor syndrome and back to creating in confidence.
What other ways do you combat impostor syndrome? Let us know in the comments...
The voids that have been filled by poets like Safia Elhillo have been refreshing and overwhelmingly fulfilling to say the least. The rise in exposure of these writers' work goes to show that they are quenching a very real thirst. Their poetry and storytelling have validated the experiences of many, creating a bond between writer and reader that is rarely seen. The work of black female poets, in particular, has contributed to the journeys of healing, self love, and liberation for many of their readers.
Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington, D.C., a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression, and she received an MFA in poetry at from the New School. Safia has been nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize and was joint winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Her work appears in several publications and in the anthologies The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and Again I Wait for This to Pull Apart.
Below is a conversation with Safia Elhillo, exploring her inspirations, motivations, and more broadly the pressing need for raw storytelling and poetry.
BLAVITY: Toni Morrison once said "Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." In what ways has writing been a form of liberation for you?
SAFIA ELHILLO: Writing, for me, has been liberation through agency. The closer I come to telling my story the way I want it to be told, the more ownership I feel over my lived experiences, my identities, etc. It feels liberating to be able to choose the language I use to tell the story instead of just passively accepting the language (or silence) that someone else assigns me. It's liberation from the silence or omissions that often are assigned hyphenated identities, and non-Western identities, and non-white, non-male identities.
B: Your work does not shy away from vulnerability. Have you struggled through sharing your truths and your wounds?
SE: I don't think I know any other way to write, really. I generally take everything really personally (when my favorite Arab Idol contestant was eliminated last season it genuinely ruined my whole week) so I don't even know how I'd be able to approach writing without bringing all my truths and wounds and feelings along with me. The struggle is more so when there are other people's stories and truths and wounds tied into my telling of my own, particularly with my family, and I have to be careful with that responsibility and try to handle it with integrity.
B: Your poems often deal with the complexities of love, whether it be unrequited, familial or romantic. In What I Learned in the Fire you say "love and the wrong man are an alternative to hating my body." Explain your journey with self love, and the ways in which you hope your readers can walk away from your work with empowerment.
SE: I've come to accept that self-love isn't this fixed, stagnant endpoint, so it's always going to be a journey, and it's always going to require active participation in that journey. That said, I don't think I quite have words to quite explain my journey, and don't think the idea is to recreate others' journeys toward self-love. I have learned that, in my case, it involves being consistently gentle with myself and listening to myself. If I'm tired, I sleep; if I'm hungry, I eat; if I need to be alone (which is 95 percent of the time, honestly), I'll figure out a way to allow myself that, even if it's just stepping out of a crowded room to sit outside for a moment.
B: Something that draws me and connects me to your work are the conversations you have with your readers about language.
A line that struck me from To the Girl in My Jazz Class: "When our voices were torn from us, bleached and shoved back into our mouths as a language that does not set a place for us at its dinner table, we still found words."
Also from dilute: "stupid girl, Atlantic got your tongue"
The English language is inherently tied to oppression, what are your thoughts on the resiliency of black writing to shine through nonetheless?
SE: I believe so hard in reclaiming and mutating language formerly used to oppress and alienate — the Ntozake Shange quote "I can't count the times I viscerally wanted to attack, deform and maim the language I was taught to hate myself in,” sums up my poetics better than anything I could say myself. I believe in a poetics of mutation, (and as a third culture kid I believe in hybridization of language), especially for people of color writing in languages that, historically, were introduced to us through violence. What I believe in, and write in, is what Wail Hassan in Immigrant Narratives describes as "a language semantically infused by its Other, bearing the marks of linguistic and ideological contamination...a major language in the hands of a minority writer is defamiliarized through its infusion with words, expressions, rhetorical figures, speech patterns, ideological intentions, and the worldview of the author’s minority group, which differentiate the writer’s language from that of the mainstream culture."
B: From your poem drown: "half don’t even make it out or across you get to be ungrateful you get to be homesick from safe inside the folds of your blue american passport do you even understand what was lost to bring you here."
Being part of a diaspora evokes feelings of belonging everywhere and nowhere, have you found solace in this? Is there a way to find belonging that isn't attached to a particular place?
SE: I don't think I've ever felt a sense of belonging to any one place. There are many places I love, but not one that I would immediately think to call "home." I guess the positive side to living in diaspora (I don't exactly want to use to word "positive" here because it feels kind of flippant, but I also can't figure out what other word to use, so) — the positive to living in diaspora is that it dislodges the idea of home from a fixed geographic location and makes it an active building process, where you get to choose (or not choose) where home is or make home a portable concept, which is what I try to do. Whenever I answer a question on this idea of home and diaspora I reach for something my mother says: "I made home," which I like so much more than "I found home" because it makes it a choice and gives a feeling of agency.
B: In bride price you share stories of women, beauty, marriage and worth. These stories validate the lived experiences of many of your readers, providing a narrative not often read. What are your thoughts on the importance of telling our own stories?
SE: I mean, if we don't tell our own stories, probably no one will, and it will make it so easy for the world or history or whatever to pretend we don't exist and never did. Reading poets like Ladan Osman, Warsan Shire, Aziza Barnes, Camonghne Felix, Matthew Shenoda, Elizabeth Acevedo, and the list goes on and on, makes me feel seen in moments where the world or the dominant white male anglophone narrative or whatever has almost succeeded in convincing me that I don't exist.
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The art world's largest barrier to entry for many is funds. Many of us are creatives bursting with ideas and possible projects, but most of us also don't have the money to leisurely invest in our own creative work. Blavity's Creative Society has curated a list of artist initiatives that provide funding for creatives like you. Prioritize your art hustle and apply!
1. The VSCO Cam artist initiative is a $1,000,000 grant given to creatives of any medium. The VSCO Cam initiative is a self-described "movement of solidarity" to support artists and their creative endeavors. Apply here!
The VSCO Artist Initiative from VSCO on Vimeo.
2. The National Endowment for the Arts provides funding for both individuals and organizations who are making a difference in their communities through art. The endowment offers funds ranging from $10,000 — $100,000. Apply here!
3. If you're a young creative between the ages of 15 and 18, apply to YoungArts, a national foundation supporting the next generation of artists. YoungArts accepts applications in cinematic arts, dance, design, jazz, classical music, photography, theatre, visual arts, and voice and writing. Cash awards can reach up to $10,000. Apply here!
4. Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh is funded by the Pittsburgh foundation. It uses funds to support black artists and their careers and to sustain the impact of existing organizations that promote black arts. Apply here!
5. The Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship offers grants to spoken word poets of color and indigenous spoken word poets. Four winners will receive a grant of $7,500 to fund a community engagement project that influences both their art and their respective communities. Apply here!
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