Your voice was a bolt of lightning. It threw me up against the wall,” Keenan Norris told Ayodele Nzinga on Alta Live of his first encounter with her work as the spoken word poet WordSlanger. Nzinga is Oakland’s first poet laureate, a job she calls “disorienting” and “absolutely liberating.” “I am interested in being fully human,” she said. “I am interested in lividity, thriving for everybody, and in particular and especially for Black folk.” She’s worked in the Black Arts movement in Oakland for years, in theater and poetry. “I defy all of the literature that says that the Black Arts movement has ended,” she said. “I work in the continuum of the Black Arts movement.”
Nzinga treated Alta Live viewers to a spoken word reading, sharing her poem “Polytrix,” about turning a blind eye to violence and war. Her work also contemplates gentrification, which affects her Oakland community. “It is interesting to watch the way that gentrification works. Nothing in Oakland has changed: it has the same shoreline, the dirt’s the same, the air’s the same, the port’s always been the same. What’s different in Oakland now is there’s been a huge demographic change,” Nzinga said. “And this conversation is being explored in art, and perhaps that’s the boldest place this conversation is being had. What does it mean for people to have no resting place?”
Check out these links to some of the topics Nzinga and Norris brought up.
- Read “She Who Remembers,” by Norris, from Alta’s Spring 2022 issue.
- Read “Fog Poem Number 71,” by San Francisco poet laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin, from Alta’s Spring 2022 issue.
- Read Norris’s “One Coyote,” from Alta’s Fall 2020 issue.
- Read more about West Oakland gentrification in an essay by Altacontributor Ishmael Reed.
- Find out more about Nzinga, also known as WordSlanger.
- Read more about playwright August Wilson.
- Read Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” and listen to Amiri Baraka’s “Dope.”
- Check out the work of other poet laureates of color, including Eisen-Martin, Daniel Summerhill, Tracy K. Smith, and Joy Harjo.
- Join Nzinga’s virtual Speakeasy on April 27 with Eisen-Martin, Narcotic the Poet, and Osunfemi Wanbi Njeri.
- Buy Norris’s books: The Confession of Copeland Cane, By the Lemon Tree, Brother and the Dancer, and Street Lit: Representing the Urban Landscape.•