The Cultural Programs and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at UConn welcomes poet, performer, activist, author and co-writer and performer of the Tony Award-winning Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Staceyann Chin. The Jamaican-born writer is best known for her works on intersectional feminism. Chin spoke on relevant social issues, violence, activism and its relation to art.
For the first time in her 25 years of writing poetry, Chin noticed a shift in ways art and poetry are shared amid the global pandemic.
“Now that we don’t have an audience in front of us, it’s very strange. I feel like I am talking to myself knowing that people are looking at me,” Chin said.
Despite this, people continue to have private relationships with and conversations about Chin’s work, which are usually public. As a part of her Wild Tongue Journal 2020 Feminist Artist Residency, Chin speaks to students on the virtual platform to share her poetry, relevant social issues affecting marginalized groups and her work as an activist during periods of her life.
Chin relates her life, as an immigrant and Black woman, to the hardships of Black women around the world.
“There’s work that’s necessary, work that has to be written work that documents the survival of black women,” Chin said.
As a storyteller, Chin believes that stories that discuss being raised by a single mother, homeownership and what it means to be an immigrant for Black women are important and necessary. Though Chin would love to write beautiful stories, her message takes precedence.
“I have to charge myself with writing these stories badly, rather than not writing them at all because I’m still concerned with writing them in this beautiful language,” Chin said. “That often is language, that is not mine.”
Being an artist and poet during the pandemic has also changed the way Chin and other artists produce content. During this age of technology, everyone can create content.
“We understand the power of being able to produce our media content and in some way puts the power in the hands of people, so art is no longer a thing you get through HBO, Netflix or even Amazon,” Chin said.
In terms of art, Chin finds inspiration in young people.
“I believe that we will have more disciplinary art forms because theatre has become a movie, a video clip has become a conversation like this,” says Chin said, alluding to how the rapid growth of technology will soon change the art world and future young artists will take over this new art form.
Shifting gears from the conversation about technology, Chin touched on the topic of gatekeeping. Gatekeepers, specifically white supremacists, should not be underestimated according to Chin.
“They are consistently on the job … stepping ahead and trying to figure out how to undermine the progress we might be making that they’re either aware of, or not aware of. So we should never sleep on the question of have we taken power from the gatekeepers of power,” Chin said.
The same power structure goes for content creators who have to pitch their works to companies such as Amazon or Netflix, in addition to pitching ideas to “smaller” companies such as ABC or HBO. Chin said there are many steps for individuals to “make it.” Individuals are trying to find spaces to “enter” and create new opportunities, which are works of being resistant to individuals who are at the top that take advantage of the vulnerability of people who aren’t, according to Chin.
Being a mixed-race person, Asian and Black, Chin became aware of racism and class structure in her youth. Depending on the space and her environment, Chin reflects that portions of her identity were unrecognized.
“I was aware of all of these different checkboxes that they needed me to check to be Black meant that I couldn’t be gay … when I was with White people who were like, oh, we all lesbian. We all about the queer queue,” Chin said. “They don’t want to hear anything about my experience as a black person.”
This is harmful as it forces individuals to fracture their identities so that others can feel comfortable.
As an activist, Chin reflects on the challenges she faced as a queer, Black woman. Her advice to young activists is that activism is a life-long responsibility where change isn’t immediate but there are celebratory moments, such as our first Black, female United States Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. Though there are extraordinary outcomes to activism, Chin believes that young folks must use their voices and continue the legacy of previous activists.
“You have to plot yourself and you have to take a vacation to take care of yourself and you have to have relationships that sustain you, but you have to know that you are going to be in the struggle for a long time,” Chin said. “And then if you’re lucky, there may be moments in the struggle when you can push ahead.”
Later in the day, Chin hosted a Poetry Reading with a Q&A portion where students were able to listen to her read some of her best works and ask questions. Here are videos of Chin reading her works: