Poetry in Motion: A Conversation with Dasan Ahanu
Happy Wednesday Luvs!
During my adolescent years I fell in love with poetry. Growing up in a small town in Eastern North Carolina the access to books was far and few between. Whether it was Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise", Nikki Giovanni's "Knoxville, Tennessee", Langston Hughe's "Mother to Son", or Sonia Sanchez's "To Anita" each time I read their stories it was a divine moment. I remember Summer days in the 80's swinging on my grandparent's porch watching the neighbors walk by to catch the bus. Beside me was always three library books filled with poetic pages of love, heartache, pain, happiness, depression, oppression, and sometimes joy. It was there on that porch where I learned about how to become a "Phenomenal Woman" and how my dreams could become my reality as a writer. However, during my college years I learned about spoken word poetry. I love how when I Google the words "spoken word poetry" I get to see my friend Dasan Ahanu's name pop-up. Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina Dasan Ahanu has an amazing portfolio of literary works as a spoken word artist, college professor, Founder of the Jambalaya Soul Slam/Bull City Slam Team, Black Jedi Zulu member, Managing Director for the Black Poetry Theatre, published author, community organizer, Resident Artist at St. Joseph's Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center, and a Nasir Jones Harvard Fellow for the Hip Hop Archive at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.
So here's how it all went down.....
How has your upbringing in Raleigh influenced your career?
It's interesting because when you do work at home its an extra level of familiarity. There are always new places I haven't spent a lot of time but majority I am familiar with. It makes it really easy and its always surprising because I'm always running into people I know. Whether it was from when we were growing up to now we are professionals in our careers or you end up sitting across from somebody you know. Its great because me as an artist is a real contrast from me growing up here. That's fun to be able to expose that at home and still after all this time there are still people like "oh that was you".
When did your career in spoken word really take off?
It sort of snuck up on me it was around 97 or 98. I was home from not doing so well in college but I went a couple of times so now I was working. I found out about something going on in the city. At that time there was a big monthly event everyone across the Triangle went to and there were two smaller events where one was in Durham and the other in Raleigh. So some friends and I went to the monthly event then we found out about the ones in Raleigh and Durham. Turns out there were people who were poets that I knew growing up and some had come back from college. That's how I got started so at first it was just something fun to do to go to open mic nights. It was in 2001, not to long after 9/11, and they shut down the center I was working at as a supervisor. So I enrolled back in school at St. Augustine University but I went to A&T originally. In order to finish up I needed to be able to work so I needed to be flexible. So I got a few opportunities from the art community here with a non-profit theatre company, which was my first introduction to theatre, and with North Carolina State University. However, I decided to go back to school because the recruiters were telling me I would not be able to get a position like I had before without a degree. By time I I got done and graduated I fell in love with the arts and I never went back to corporate. So I ended up in Durham in 2004 working with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
How was your experience as a Harvard Fellow?
It was absolutely wonderful and it was so much to take in. Just on campus alone and Cambridge I had to get use to that. I had to get use to the area and I don't know how to sit still. I had to find the people of color and where the artists were at. Being a fellow meant we had firsthand knowledge of speakers, resources, lectures, and every week I couldn't believe I'm sitting here listening to this. Everybody stops by there its amazing.
What moments stood out to you most in your travels that you brought back to NC?
All the experiences that I've had have made themselves into an incubator and it gave me a new thought process on how to inspire people. When you are there and you have leading folks in these fields speaking your out of classroom experiences become so enriching. The way you think and what you engage in becomes so different. When you get someone into that environment their thoughts become so different and once they become successful they bring some of that back. So you come in and it broadens your exposure then you come back. When I got home I realized I came back with a much more broader perspective of my art. If you make time to take in as much as possible success will come.
What is the experience like being connected with your audience?
The best way that I can put it is to say I was doing a workshop at the Southern Writer's Symposium and there was a music professor from UNC speaking at the workshop. Afterwards, he came up to see me. He said, "I realized hearing you talk about your writing the way that you do, especially spoken word, is what I tell my music students. Its the closet thing to magic that you will experience". There is this connection that happens and this opportunity of power but its not manipulative yet its like magic.
Dasan Ahanu's story is so inspiring because even though he hit a few bumps in this road called "life" he was able to follow a destined pathway over time. You never know what people may become. I admire his perseverance and dedication to be a change agent. He's stepped into his purpose and is contributing to empowering others in his community as well as nationally. How many of us walk through life wondering what the next step will be versus taking a leap of faith after an experience? Just think if the center he worked at would have stayed open or the events that were hosted in the area were never created where would who we know as "Dasan Ahanu" be? That's why you can never take for granted the experiences you have in life. Whether it was a lay-off, open mic nights with friends, or tough college years each experience is a teachable moment.
We wish Dasan Ahanu continued success in all of his endeavors!
To find out what's next with Dasan Ahanu follow him @DasanAhanu on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Until Next Time Ladies & Gentleman This is The Lux Blog - Kimberly