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The Writing Life: An Interview with Tish Jones

2013 February 19
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Tish Jones, photo credit: BFRESHPhotographyEditor’s Note: An inspiring, yet down-to-earth person on all accounts, Tish Jones is, among other things, the founder, executive, and artistic director of a developing non-profit arts organization called TruArtSpeaks, in addition to spoken word artist and educator from St. Paul, MN. She’s well-known both nationally and locally as a spoken word artist, including as a 2006 Minnesota slam team member. She is also our headlining featured reader at the second annual Words at WAM, copresented with Hazel & Wren and the Weisman Art Museum on Wednesday, February 27, 6-8:30 pm.

Hazel & Wren: What initially drew you to spoken word/poetry?

Tish Jones: I had always been a writer and performer. My first performance was in 2nd grade at Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul. It began with theatre and progressed into Spokenword. The Black Arts Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and Hip Hop also had a great deal to do with it. These were the (rhythmic) orators of my youth.

H&W: What experiences and/or mentors were most helpful to your development as a poet/writer?

TJ: Experience: Brave New Voices 2005 in San Francisco. It was my first time attending the international youth poetry slam festival and my life was genuinely changed. I met youth that I would grow into adulthood with and adults that would serve as mentors, colleagues, and sources of great inspiration. I became part of a rich and welcoming community that year. I am so grateful to that experience and the people that helped make it a possibility for me.

Mentors: Marc Bamuthi Joseph has probably been the most influential in terms of my development. I’ve been blessed to have workshopped and studied with him several times over the last few years and his pedagogy is filled with social justice content as well as honest, difficult, and beautiful identity-based work. All rooted in the Hip Hop and Spokenword aesthetics. Also, Sha Cage. A woman who continues to stay true to herself and exenplify hard work, amazing writing and an incomparable presence.

H&W: Where do you consistently find inspiration for your writing? 

TJ: Inspiration is all around. As cliché as it sounds it’s true. I find it all around and in me.

H&W: Tell us about TruArtSpeaks: when did this become something bigger for you, what made you take that step from a passion into an organization?

TJ: Actually, TruArtSpeaks has been taking action since its inception. We have been teaching, curating shows, producing events, organizing protests, collaborating in the community and so much more since 2006. The decision to get a fiscal sponsor came this year when adding new programming and strategically planning for our future. The mission is as follows:

TruArtSpeaks utilizes elements of Hip Hop, Spokenword, and the arts to contest literacy and leadership, supporting a generation of vibrant young voices as they make their claim on the world. We provide a platform for youth to find, develop, study, and share their stories in safe spaces. TruArtSpeaks dares participants to give back and become agents of the change they seek, while remaining students of the culture and histories past.

H&W: What role does a sense of community play in your work, as a spoken-word poet, and for TruArtSpeaks?

TJ: Community is at the center of all things that I participate in. The community has supported, nurtured, and disciplined me and it is my responsibility to return the gift.

H&W: What, in your opinion, are some common traits that make a spoken word piece resonate with the audience?

TJ: This question is tricky. How a poem resonates will depend on the audience as well as the poet. For me, honesty and authenticity are always two very good qualities present in any work.

H&W: When you get up in front of the crowd at an open mic, what is going through your head?

TJ: At open mics, I am generally hoping that we can create a safe space for everyone to express themselves, feel supported, and help one another grow. Open mics that have created this atmosphere are my favorite places to go.

H&W: What’s next for you, as a poet, artist, activist, educator, and/or as founder of TruArtSpeaks?

TJ: What’s next is what’s now. I am always hoping to learn, love, and live more. Experiences make life rich. I am in it for quality experiences to share with my community and the world around me. I am finishing up my bachelors, hoping to create quality programming through upcoming collaborations with TruArtSpeaks and other community organizations, as well as remain (and increase) my presence in the community as an organizer and supporter.

H&W: What advice do you have for the future Words at WAM open mic-ers?

TJ: Have fun. 🙂

H&W: If you were going to write a poem (or creative prose) inspired by any piece of visual art, what piece of art would you write about?

TJ: Basquiat’s “Untitled (Skull)” – 1984 or his work “The Radiant Child