Ebony Stewart is an internationally touring poet and performance artist. Her work speaks to the black experience, with emphasis on gender, sexuality, womanhood, and race, with the hopes of being relatable, removing shame, healing minds, encouraging dialogue, and inspiring folks in marginalized communities.
She is the author of Love Letters to Balled Fists and Home.Girl.Hood. Her work has been featured in For Harriet, AfroPunk, Teen Vogue, and The Texas Observer. She was the only poet to perform at the 2018 Seattle Pride Festival before 200,000 people.
Ebony was a guest teaching artist for a Gemini Ink Partner Classes project at White Middle School in December. This interview was compiled by Gemini Ink intern Diana Lizette-Rodriguez.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: Ebony, I did want to say that while composing my questions for you, I have truly enjoyed learning about you, reading your work, and watching your performances. How would you describe your poetry? How would you describe your performance style?
Ebony Stewart: I would describe my poetry as honest and relevant; maybe even a release to what I (we) hold on to. Having only one performance style would be too boring for me. My performance style varies depending on what emotion the poem calls for me to tap into; whether it be calm, strong, or silly.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: You write with so much power and presence that is meant to be heard out loud. How did you start getting into poetry performance? What does performance mean to you?
Ebony Stewart: I started performance poetry in undergrad (2005) when I was at Texas State University. Shout out to Austin Neo Soul and the CUPSI team I was a part of. I use performance as a platform and outlet—speaking truth to power is a big (and sometimes heavy) responsibility that I cherish and feel fortunate to be able to do.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: In the Home.Girl.Hood.Curriculum. you have created an educational process that uses language, the literary arts, and classroom discussion to address issues of diversity. This curriculum is exciting in how it tackles social justice issues that are seldom represented in educational spaces. What made you realize there was a need for this type of curriculum? How have students responded to this curriculum?
Ebony Stewart: When I taught 9th grade English to inner-city youth in Austin, Texas, the curriculums they used seldom spoke to those kids (or me), what they (we) faced, or how to acknowledge their (our) lives as we know it and converse about it in lessons. A lot of curriculums ignore social issues that are everyday life for these young people. I wanted to validate and recognize that. The teacher should be uncomfortable yet encouraged; the students should feel seen, heard, and empowered. I wanted to offer an opportunity for the rich and witty language we use in community to have reverence and relevance. I look forward to hearing how the students with Gemini Ink respond.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: Describe your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
Ebony Stewart: I don’t necessarily have a routine. I write when I want to and how much I want to—that way I get to have control over what belongs to me. I would say my writing process is more of a ponder, explore, obsess, and then execute. I like to spend time thinking about my work and its reason. I interrogate my feelings (if it’s true or not) and if it’s urgent. I’ve had to learn that some poems are more urgent than others and that is why some come into the world quickly and others take their sweet ass time to grow and be plucked. I admire both processes. Both feel necessary to me, so I make room.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: What advice would you give to a writer who is starting their writing journey?
Ebony Stewart: I would ask them what they want to write about and why? I’d suggest they pay attention… to everything… then write from what they think they know or want to know more about—there’s something freeing about not having the answers, but being brave enough to still search. Don’t worry about sounding or writing like or better than someone else. And don’t be afraid to write the same story (poem) twice. You are the expert of your work.
Diana Lizette-Rodriguez: What creative projects are you working on now? Do you plan on creating any more curricula for youth?
Ebony Stewart: I plan on creating more curriculums for youth, ones that incorporate social-emotional learning too. Right now is right now though, and to be honest, after the year we’ve had in 2020, I’m my most important project at the moment. This whole tending to me has been a trip! I’m looking forward to a lot of what I’ve manifested coming into fruition though, and being rewarded with what getting out of my own way looks and feels like. So, we’ll see.