,There are not a lot of things I can say with much confidence these days. There is one thing, however, that I will put good money on. Once you hear Eve Williams Wilson read her work you are going to want to hear more. I know I did, after hearing her read with her father and sisters at Dog Ears back in March. After seeing her at Just Buffalo recently, I asked her if she would like to share a little about herself and her poetry.
Fred Whitehead - When was the first time you read at a slam event?
Eve Williams Wilson - Hmmmm…. I think the first time I competed was when I was 15, and I was pretty active in the New England/ North East scene, performing in Boston, Washington DC, NYC, and other cities. I stopped competing completely in 2006, I think, as I felt poetry had left me.
F.W. - Was that the first time you shared your work?
E.W.W. - Ha! My sister tells me I used to tell her poems before I could write, and she would keep track of them…It’d be fun to see those. I had elementary school teachers (Bennett Park Montessori) who got some of my poems published from the age of 7. The first time I went on stage, as a more mature poet, was when I was 14 and performed both poetry and rap in the Buffalo underground hip hop scene.
F.W. - You've mentioned that you suffered a brain injury in a vehicle accident. When was this?
E.W.W. - Yes, I was rear-ended by a bus in January of 2015.
F.W. - Did you find, after your injury, that your writing was different?
E.W.W. - I can’t really remember the beginning except that I had vision issues and problems concentrating on everything. BUT I do remember writing a lot… because it's all I felt I had / could do. Write, exercise, and take care of my son. I probably only wrote 2 or 3 poems over the previous decade but had maintained a routine of writing 3 pages every morning for 15 years. After the accident, that writing, which I called "free-writing” or "stream of consciousness", just exploded. It was hard for me to communicate with people verbally… to get across my thoughts and feelings, or even listen. However, I was still taking in everything. I would just process by writing without actively thinking.
Then in March, these writings gained more recognizable form and all of a sudden I was “birthing” 3-10 poems (sometimes more) daily. It's also different because my work is more raw… I don’t always know what I’m saying or what I meant when I read it later but know it speaks to what I felt /needed to do so. I let it be. My brain injury also makes active editing / processing nearly impossible. Ummmm, I also write about pretty much everything that pops in my head when I have my pen. If I don’t get it out, it stays in my head and hurts more.
F.W. - Have you had any of your poetry printed?
E.W.W. - I haven’t had anything published since I was much younger; although I have typed up a few of the pieces on my Facebook poetry page.
F.W. - Do you find performing your poetry as rewarding as having it in print or more so?
E.W.W. - I am actually terrified that my poetry in print would suck! At least most of it… I guess I’m so accustomed to Spoken Word that I feel like people won’t understand / hear / feel it as much if it is print. Its something I’m trying to get over…
F.W. - Do you think the two forms should be looked at as completely different animals or, at least as far as your own work? Do they (and should they) compliment each other?
E.W.W. - Um, I think they have the potential to compliment each other but, as I mentioned before, I question the power of my work written. I’m just scared people won’t be able to hear me if they can’t hear me, if you know what I mean?
F.W. - You have traveled to do volunteer work in other countries. Where are some of the places you've been, and what kind of work did you do?
E.W.W. - As an adult I lived, worked, and studied in Cuba, Nicaragua, Guyana, and Uganda. In Cuba I taught English and worked in a church kitchen cooking. I was sent to Nicaragua to teach English, but because of racism in the mountain community where I lived, locals wouldn’t send their kids to me; so I did Oral histories of former Sandinistas instead. In Guyana I created and instituted a literacy program in a primary school, and in Uganda I was a Rotary Club scholar studying Peace and Conflict Studies at a local university.
F.W. - What do you make of the poetry scene in Buffalo?
E.W.W. - I love the poetry scene in Buffalo! It is sooooo diverse. I love that nearly every week there are spoken word/ slam events as well as open mics and reading showcasing a variety of forms of poetry
F.W. - Concerning poetry locally, if there was anything you would change, what would that be?
E.W.W. - More poetry? Haha. Seriously though, on a more selfish note, I would just love if there were more resources for publication readiness… workshops, lectures, mentorships, counseling, etc. I see a lot of people spending their money on publishing chapbooks and journals, but it would be nice to have more guidance about publishing. I will admit that since I am new to the scene and don’t have the capacity to be as involved as I like, this may exist already.
F.W. - Who are some of your influences?
E.W.W. - Saul Williams is definitely my number one. I fell in love with the movie “Slam”, memorizing each poem and watching it more than a dozen times. I am also a big fan of Walter Mosley and Octavia Butler.
F.W. - Do you have any of them in mind when you work?
E.W.W. - Not consciously, but certainly I’ve had experiences that remind me of their books. Then I write about what happened, and, voilà!, they have sci-fi elements. My poem “Mammy Fantasies” is one of the most recognizably inspired by Butler’s work. Mosley’s work is beautifully blunt, complex and straightforward at the same time, and I aspire to write like that… Since I was young I noticed how language shifts from school and home and across cultural, racial, economic, and regional lines. As a multi-racial child, I traversed these cultures and languages somewhat seamlessly, then grew frustrated as different authority figures tried to determine and place value on my person based on the language I was using or to whom I was using the language. As I went into higher education and then travelled the world, my understanding of the power of language grew. It has always been one of my highest priorities to make my language accessible-- either written or verbal, to a diversity of people. (GOSH! I can’t get that out as clear as I’d like.)
F.W. - It makes a lot of sense to me. I find it is sometimes hard to find or make time to write . How do you handle a busy schedule and work writing into your day?
E.W.W. - I always have my notebook and write nearly every free moment. I wake up at 5 most mornings, one to two hours before my son, so that I can do my “morning pages”. He respects my writing time… usually… because he understands that I can’t function if I can’t write when I need to.
F.W. - Are you from here originally?
E.W.W. - Yes I was born in my father’s house on Highgate ave. I left Buffalo to attend a Quaker school on a farm in New Hampshire when I was 15 and moved back permanently in January of 2011.
F.W. - I've heard that you work with refugees trying to start a new life in Buffalo? What kind of help are you providing?
E.W.W. - I decided to stay in Buffalo because of the refugee population. After traveling for so long, it was wonderful to find a place that had so much diversity. I started working at the International Institute (IIB), coordinating their employment program for refugees and immigrants. IIB is a state department sponsored program that is really on the cutting edge of refugee resettlement and programming. I’m not sure I would’ve left that work unless I found a position where I thought I could’ve done more/ had a larger impact. Unfortunately, I have a traumatic brain injury from my accident and have been disabled since February 2015.
F.W. - A fair amount of your work speaks to social injustice. With the outcome of the election recently, do you see yourself addressing these even more?
E.W.W. - No... I don't. I mean of course I'm writing about it a lot because it's a serious current event--but so is mass incarceration/ the school to prison pipeline, the North Dakota Pipeline, police shootings of minorities, systematic discrimination and oppression... This is just the reality of America, heck the world. I think the only thing that's changed is that people who weren't overtly oppressed or attuned to oppression can see it more clearly now...which is also annoying. I mean I really don't enjoy saying "I told you so" when we're talking about more bodies being assaulted. Dying. So maybe the biggest difference is that I'm using trump as a verb a lot... And it's annoying.
F.W. - I've come to know your father (poet Scott Williams) over the past couple of years and I'm a big fan of his writing, and I have met your mom. Were they supportive in your chosen art form when you were young?
E.W.W. - Definitely! My mom was my number one fan since the beginning, always helping me edit anything I wrote. In addition to supporting my poetry / writing, I took art and music lessons.
F.W. - Do you continue to do any other kind of art?
E.W.W. - I took a painting workshop last year, which I enjoyed--but then I viewed the whole set up and clean up process as time I could be writing. Haha. But I would like to get back to it, perhaps when I have a larger living space and can dedicate a room to visual art.
F.W. - Have you written anything besides poetry?
E.W.W. - I wrote a few short stories last winter… that was fun. I never did that before, but when I shared them I found that they needed a lot of editing, which is nearly impossible for me.
F.W. - Your video channel Unfiltered has a pretty good following. When did you launch it?
E.W.W. - I believe I started it in April… recording poems with my iPhone as I wrote them in the car. Haha, I can remember in the beginning I just recorded what was outside my window because I hated seeing myself. I’ve gotten over that though because getting them out / sharing them, is nearly important as writing for me… at least with some of the pieces.
Until you get the chance to hear her live, visit her Unfiltered page.
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