Interview With @ZenaEdwards The Woman Of Words!

Q. Why and how did you come to the choice to express your ideas and thoughts through writ­ing, poetry and singing?

We all have gifts. Some of us just don’t know it, have for­got­ten, or have been denied access to their gift because of life exper­i­ences. Some­times we have to see some type of life exper­i­ences that may have a break through to our gift. As an only child I had to amuse myself. Had an ima­gin­ary friend and learned how to impro­vise, cre­ate and writ­ing was my gift. I wrote my diary and I wrote my own stor­ies and loved books I loved words and their abil­ity to com­mu­nic­ate com­plex ideas with images a child can under­stand. This is why chil­dren must read. To com­mu­nic­ate their thought and to be able to be healed by stor­ies when cir­cum­stances are tough grow­ing up. Books were my escape as an only child in a single par­ent fam­ily. Mum work­ing hard. And I learned to be a very self suf­fi­cient child in mak­ing my own fun. It got me into trouble a few times but then that wouldn’t be child­hood. I learned yet again. I would nev­er have known that it could become a career. Find­ing that out was a whole oth­er jour­ney with char­ac­ters with their own back­stor­ies. People are inter­est­ing and there’s a lot we could learn from each oth­er by listen­ing to one another’s stor­ies. We all wanna feel freely, without fear. Stor­ies that empower can help you have hope. Hope is prac­tic­al. Hope is doing things that innov­ate and cre­ate. No mat­ter what your cir­cum­stances and my cir­cum­stances grow­ing up were chal­len­ging. My fam­ily situ­ation was chal­len­ging, grow­ing up a young woman of Afric­an des­cent with a Carib­bean migrant and my exper­i­ence in Bri­tain. I have to write that story and stor­ies that I can relate my own exper­i­ence with. Tell a col­lect­ive story and you have a pur­pose, a voca­tion and if you’re lucky, ded­ic­ated and hard work­ing your tal­ent, gift will give you a career. That’s why and that’s how.

Q. You have trav­elled to vari­ety of dif­fer­ent coun­tries.  How have the exper­i­ences of the coun­tries and people you have met affected your growth as a writer and a poet?

I have a ment­or in Pops Mohammed. Steve Tasane, gave me an extra point in a slam and I haven’t looked back. Cap­it­al­ise on an oppor­tun­ity to grow. It’s a way to find a path in life. I nev­er knew I’d be here but a path began to build itself in front of me as I got more inter­ested in the art form. Also the scene was provid­ing a new net­work of people. It made Lon­don an excit­ing place to be in. Still is. Spoken word events every where.  Audi­ences in dif­fer­ent cul­tures like and under­stand dif­fer­ent things so it has diver­si­fied my work. I try to write a bal­anced spec­trum of work because it’s also part of who I am grow­ing up in mul­ti­cul­tur­al Lon­don. I can be a glob­al writer. That was also very affirm­ing to know. Travel has really influ­enced how I think about work­ing and a career as a spoken word artist. It is pos­sible.

Q. How power­ful a tool do you feel poetry can be to teach and edu­cate our youth on top­ics of polit­ics and opens them up to what is hap­pen­ing in the world around them?

Lan­guage is a tool like press­ing but­tons on an xbox. You push a com­bin­a­tion of but­tons, and swiv­el the joy­stick in a par­tic­u­lar way you punch a code into the game. The code becomes a player’s moves affect­ing the game. Same with words. You put a set of words togeth­er in a cer­tain tone of voice and you get a code to people’s human­ity. Politi­cians know this and so do poets. And that’s the craft­ing, to make people feel and be inspired you have to work at how you put those words togeth­er. You have to love lan­guage and you have to love people enough to put the work in and make a change. I love young people. I was young once. But today’s young people are under it. It’s tough and I’m see­ing adult situ­ations forced up on them too soon. The least we can do is arm them with the gift of lan­guage, words. And the beauty of poetry, it’s abil­ity to con­nect people, change hearts and minds, bring people around, engage them in a group activ­ity that has noth­ing to do with drugs, alco­hol, being on the street. At the same time by using a lan­guage that they under­stand, by val­id­at­ing it, and allow­ing them to have a voice that is nat­ur­al to them, or should I say giv­ing them per­mis­sion that they shouldn’t even have to ask for to express them­selves because things are scary out there. They need edu­ca­tion, advice,  a shoulder to cry on or share their pride with, some reprieve, a plat­form to express con­cerns when their men­tal heath and well being is threatened, and stor­ies, music and words. Lan­guage can do this so effi­ciently and the politi­cians know this. This is why the every child deserves an edu­ca­tion. We only have to look at the Malala Sou to know that there is some kind of con­flict going on when women are denied the access to words, to their own thoughts, this is why I really push for young people to get in to poetry, they can use their words cre­at­ively and exper­i­ence beauty, under­stand­ing and power even if they’ve nev­er left their post code.

Q. You also per­form storytelling. How do you find people’s reac­tion to your storytelling and poetry dif­fer?

Not much actu­ally. I’m not clock­ing it really because I just do me and if people like it then great. I have had to do a lot con­vin­cing in the past. Had audi­ences that just don’t get me but work on the craft of per­form­ance to deliv­er a sol­id set. Focused from the heart. It helps that I believe in the work. So in some ways any event where words are on the menu, I just do me and not con­cern myself too much with wheth­er I’m storytelling or per­form­ing poetry. To me it’s all story telling.

Q. What are some of the main influ­ences that allow you to express your thoughts through writ­ing and poetry?

The way you have phrased this ques­tion is inter­est­ing – “influ­ences that allow me to express my thoughts…”  James Bal­wd­in gave me per­mis­sion write long sen­tences but mas­ter the art of punc­tu­ation. Maya Angelou taught me you can have as many lives as you want just ded­ic­ate your­self to being authen­t­ic and one hun­dred per­cent present in whatever phase of your life you are going through. Zora Neal Hur­ston taught me about writ­ing with cajoles, thriv­ing sur­viv­al and gritty spir­itu­al­ity.  Paulo Coehlo and Gar­cia Mar­quez taught magic real­ism and where life and death can meet in writ­ing which bled into my per­form­ances. Chris Abani told me to write about life when its ugly and make it beau­ti­ful to read and listen to.

I think as a woman of col­our liv­ing in the west there’s a dia­spora story that needs to be told, one that is unique to Bri­tain too so these writers tuned into that story or I tuned into theirs and could relate.  Well these are my influ­ences and they are fun­da­ment­al, they allowed me to tune into my cul­ture, my lan­guage in a way the main­stream nar­rat­ive would nev­er per­mit me to. Most main­stream media has us as one dimen­sion with one nar­rat­ive. When the west­ern pat­ri­arch­al main­stream was telling me what I had to say as a woman and woman of col­our at that, was not worth any­thing and was not allowed that it was wrong. See­ing the bril­liance, incan­des­cence of these writers guided me to my gift, the way I spoke of earli­er, giv­ing per­mis­sion to be my self, speak my truth, my way. They cleared my path obstruc­ted with the doubt that my voice was good enough to be con­sidered worthy, and that it had a right to be part of world his­tory as much as any­one else’s.

Q. You are involved in edu­ca­tion­al work­shops and mas­ter classes in schools, com­munity centres, Arts insti­tutes and theatres. Could you tell us a bit about what is involved in these work­shops and mas­ter classes?

I focus on the longest term and deep­est impact a per­son can walk away with after being in a space of learn­ing. I tend to think core work. So I will put togeth­er a series of work­shops and exer­cises based on what I sense a group might need to give them that per­mis­sion I spoke of that my influ­ences gave me. So for example we don’t have racism in our faces in the main­stream media like we might have had twenty or thirty years ago but it has changed its shape and if you give someone the right glass they will see past the blur. All you need is to just be able to see things clearly. I try to put togeth­er work­shop plans that work muscles that help people to see the world clearly. I don’t tell them what to see I just give them a workout plan. So I’ll think engage­ment with the sub­ject, know­ledge of self in rela­tion to that same sub­ject. If an islam­a­phobic, racist, or homo­phobic com­ment is made in an art­icle but dis­guised as fact then we need to unpack it and cre­ativ­ity is a good tool for decon­struct­ing and recon­struct­ing. Any news­pa­per journ­al­ist knows that.

Q. What advice could you offer any young people that are think­ing of devel­op­ing their writ­ten or poetry skills?

Be pre­pared to go through a few evol­u­tions and don’t freak out when they’re hap­pen­ing. They’re just cre­at­ive grow­ing pains. If you’re ser­i­ous you should feel them because growth is the most import­ant part. As you grow more con­fid­ent in your voice, being authen­t­ic, have some fail­ure with new work as life exper­i­ences give you a new and deep­er under­stand­ing about life. Use some of the uncer­tainty to write stor­ies with begin­ning with a jour­ney, middle with high ten­sion with high stakes and happy or sad end­ing but where things have moved for­ward and your audi­ence has been moved. To do that you must be authen­t­ic and in a world that doesn’t really praise authen­t­ic and wants plastic throw away stuff, now is the per­fect time to be ori­gin­al and authen­t­ic cos that stuff don’t wash any more. People want con­nec­tion in time of aus­ter­ity and cor­rup­tion, job insec­ur­ity and high youth unem­ploy­ment, a cul­ture of fear and blame, people don’t want escap­ism any more. Tell them the truth give them prac­tic­al hope and remind us of our human­ity but tell the joy, pain, moments of beauty and love and tri­umph, that’s what we all what to exper­i­ence over again through a good story. Remind us to stay human for each oth­er and ourselves. “Me. We.”  As Mohamed Ali said. That’s the world’s shortest poem appar­ently. Write your truth. Read and prac­tice using words like a paint­er, and math­em­atician. Lastly, Think glob­al. You get out of your post code, your, bor­ough, your city, your coun­try and out into the world when you think glob­al.


Arash Sharifi

Arash Shari­fi


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Arash Sharifi

Arash Sharifi

Arash has been pas­sion­ate about Hip hop for many years. He believes through hip hop you can teach, edu­cate and empower people to become bet­ter ver­sions of them­selves and help and sup­port their com­munity and oth­ers. Hip hop is more than just music, it can be a teach­er to us all.

About Arash Sharifi

Arash Sharifi
Arash has been passionate about Hip hop for many years. He believes through hip hop you can teach, educate and empower people to become better versions of themselves and help and support their community and others. Hip hop is more than just music, it can be a teacher to us all.

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