It all started with the Langston Hughes poem I found on the ground while walking to school. Fifth grade. Before then I listened to African-inspired words, Spanish ballads and Caribbean stories in our New York home. From the beginning, I loved the sound and impact of language, but it was the discovery of "Mother to Son" that let me know that writing could express and celebrate diversity.
I read Maya Angelou's memoirs voraciously then fell in love with Nikki Giovanni's revolutionary ego trip. The magic realism crafted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison was simply captivating. And I couldn't stop staring as artists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chuck Palahniuk and Wally Lamb poured abstract thought onto the page.
When performance poets Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Stacey-Ann Chinn and Saul Williams hit the stage, I couldn’t help, but grab pen and paper and arrange words into my own music with my own performances egged on by rapper Rakim's line, "I came in the door/ I said it before/ I'd never let the mic magnatize me no more..."
Music is a major source of inspiration and lyricists like Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker and Jill Scott keep me nodding my head to the images they spin. But my writing begins with being born in the Bronx to Garifuna parents, listening to dramatic tales spun in Spanish and scrawling my imagination all over my dad's accounting ledgers and any spare piece of paper I could find.
I was confirmed a writer in Mr. Barkan's 10th grade creative writing class and was promptly introduced to performing poetry and entering competitions. It felt like we literally went on the road. I grew to win recognition as a spoken word poet during college and eventually became the Poetry Editor of the Stonybrook paper, BlackWorld. I have read at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe, the Brooklyn Moon and Langston Hughes' brownstone during the 100 year celebration of his work. After reading Sapphire's novel PUSH, I applied to Brooklyn College's Creative Writing program and earned my MFA. I studied 'Poetry as Memoir' with Patricia Smith as a Cave Canem poet and founded an open mic venue called the Launchpad when I moved to Atlanta, Georgia.
Any time I have ventured away from the page and into the world, I have been warmly welcomed and encouraged by distinguished poets and writers like Cornelius Eady, Sonia Sanchez and E. Ethelbert Miller. Their nurturing spirits identified them as teachers and spurred my passion for teaching.
For the past sixteen years I have taught English/language arts to middle school students with special focus on the budding writers who cross my path. After all, it was a teacher who told me that I was "the next Maya Angelou" and set me on the path to living my art.
And now, as I work on my first novel, a fiction work exploring the role of cultural identity in changing times, I look to writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros who express human tenacity from a new vantage point, allowing us the opportunity to contemplate varied approaches to navigating the same struggles. They have penned aspects of the Native American, Haitian, Dominican and Mexican-American experience and I aspire to add the Garifuna story to the conversation. And telling that story is only the beginning.