Even though she's only in her early 20s, E'mon Lauren Black has accomplished so much.
Not only was Black named Chicago's first youth poet laureate in 2016 (an honor from Young Chicago Authors, in partnership with Urban Word NYC), but the openly queer word artist has been a champion at Louder Than a Bombthe largest youth poetry festival in the worldand she's taking part again this year. Black has also had a chapbook of poems, COMMANDO, published; is a member of Young Chicago Authors Teaching Artist Corps; and even has a cool podcast, The Real Hoodwives of Chicago.
[NOTE: The Chicago Tribune reported March 9 that Young Chicago Authors announced its popular annual Louder Than a Bomb festival and all activities will be postponed until late spring following a shake-up in leadership and allegations of sexual assault tied to the program. This year it would have begun March 13 as a virtual event, with 60 teams and about 500 high schoolers participating.
This interview was conducted before that article was published.]
Windy City Times: Your official biography says that you're from the "Wes and Souf sides of Chicago." I know that the terminology means, but could you explain to our readers?
E'mon Lauren Black: Yes. I'm inspired by etymology, and I think that "Souf" is a cultural thingkind of like we have "up north," "over east" and "out west." There's this idea of direction that talks about our culture. "Souf Side" is the emphasis of the swag, like "Souf Side culture."
WCT: Congratulations on being the first youth poet laureate of Chicago. How did you find out?
ELB: Thank you! We're in our fifth term. I'm grateful to be matriarch of a legacy.
I actually performed a poem at LTAB's [Louder Than a Bomb's] 16th anniversary, so it was in 2016. It was at the Winter Block Party at the Metroand I was told right after I performed. I had no idea that was happening. I was so astonished.
WCT: Tell our readers how you came into your own regarding your queerness.
ELB: I appreciate that question. I think I always knew. It started with my first kiss with a girl, and my adoration of girls and women continued through school.
My adoration and even flirtation caught people off-guard, I think. I'd much rather make you smile than get a scowl from you. The way I acted was, in part, a defensive mechanism. I'm open enough to love anyone and I've never seen it as a kind of sexual identity. People tried to bully me and asked me, "Are you bi?" I didn't know what "queer" waslike that didn't exist. Regarding poetry, I've always been inspired by the fluidity of message and just who I am, and even my influences regarding relationships with men. Men are more accessible to me, but I'm very specific with how I date and treat women, because I am a woman who has been disrespected. Any idea of poetry always makes me have that dialogue with myself and with others.
WCT: For our readers, could you explain what Louder Than a Bomb is?
ELB: Louder Than a Bomb is the biggest youth poetry festival in the world. It is a festival that brings all youth together to spit poems and participate in auxiliary programs. This year, we're really focusing on the festival aspect so it won't be as much of a contest. It's going to be a big profound showcase. It's been around since 2001, and I believe it was created in response to the narrative surrounding the [Twin Towers] falling [during 9/11]. It was created in response to the narrative about silence.
My first time at LTAB was when I was 14a freshman in high schooland that's when I got to see a community of people who looked like me. I learned about pronouns and what "non-binary" means. It was a life source of education that helped me with my identity.
WCT: And there's an event called "Queeriosity." Are you part of that this year?
ELB: I am part of Queeriosity! I've participated before. I believe it's being led this year by an Louder Than a Bomb [alumnus]. Queeriosity is what we call a "poetry salon," and it's for queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming folxand it's actually for anyone who wants to come. Sometimes they do collage work, vision boards, a talking circle or even a dance party. I'm curious to see how it's being brought back this year in a virtual spaceand I'm interested in doing some work to make it pop again.
WCT: Let's talk about The Real Hoodwives of Chicago.
ELB: Yes! I'm actually out with season three. I started the podcast to have a platform or an archive for people to be educated on, for Black and Brown womyn, femmes, folx and artists of color from the Chicagoland area. We talk love, sex, romance and ratchetry without a whitewashed lens or heteronormative structure.
I thought it was very untraditional just to hear Black stories in mainstream media. But when you see or hear them, they're created by white people or they're on reality TV, which shows a very skewed or limited view. So I wanted to create something where you could hear us talk about our escapades, our bodies and our bodies of work. It's live and in-the-moment.
WCT: Of course, poet Amanda Gorman has gotten a lot of attention since performing at President Biden's inauguration. What are your thoughts on her visibility?
ELB: It shows what has always existed: Black poetry is the backbone of America's storytelling, history and lineage. I think it encourages me to use my poetry and voice to shine a light on what has existed around me. It makes me want to continue to put out different poetry and continue on that much-needed narrative that Black peopleand, specifically, Black women and girlsare not a monolith regarding the stories they tell. We don't all look or sound the same. I hope people are keeping their eyes out for all pro-Black experiences, especially in poetica.
WCT: James Baldwin once wrote, "People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them." What do you feel is the state of Black people in this point in history?
ELB: First, that's a good-ass quote! [Laughs]
I'm only in my 24th year of life, but I feel that Black people are moving upward. Something I like to talk about is that we have to understand the difference between freedom and power, and it's okay for all of us to not be on the same side of it right now. We're so much more open and perceptive regarding education, and I feel that we're honoring the education that we do have. I think, while we're being educated, we're also educating and continuing conversations.
I also think we're making so many moves because we're ready for that. Before, white people wanted to make the Black dollar, or see how influential the Black dollar or poet market is. We're coming into our own and building a force field around us. We're at a point where we can build our own strengths in our own markets.
WCT: What did you learn about yourself in this past year?
ELB: Oh, I've learned that I need to exercise patience. I also realized that my depression doesn't look like everybody's else's depressionand that is really okay with me. I also learned that's it's okay to take a sabbatical or rest; when you're ready, you'll come up.
We're also having conversations about proper work conditions. Even during the pandemic, I was trying to work at the top of itand I started to crash and burn. I had to recondition my mind to find out what works for me. You have to find what works best for you.
I can do anything I want to do as long as I'm patient, and do what my mind and body need.
The Real Hoodwives of Chicago is at podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-real-hoodwives-of-chicago/id1445644367 and anchor.fm/emon-lauren-black.
E'mon Lauren Black is on Instagram and Twitter @laurenlikepolo.
The Chicago Tribune article is at www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/books/ct-prem-ent-young-chicago-authors-allegations-20210309-fzaavatl4jep5ath6dfp3blayq-story.html .