While growing up in Robbins, Illinoisthe oldest majority-Black suburb in the Chicago area and one of the oldest incorporated Black municipalities in the United StatesLeVan D. Hawkins always dreamed of being a writer and actor/performance artist.
When Hawkins was considering his college options his mom convinced him that he should get a degree in accounting so he applied to the University of Illinois-Champaign and spent his first two years there.
"My grades started dropping so I decided to audition for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago [SAIC] in the Spring of my Sophomore year and came back to U. of I. and dropped all of my accounting, business and trigonometry classes," said Hawkins. "I didn't know whether I was going to get in to SAIC and I didn't tell anyone that I was auditioning. U of I was really too big for me and I was having sexuality issues. The only classes I enjoyed were English and Drama so I finished those classes that spring. I really wanted to be a writer and actor. I wrote a play for my fourth grade class and had a subscription to the Writer's Digest when I was 12. Acting didn't come along until I was 14."
Hawkins got in to SAIC the summer between his sophomore and junior years and that's when he told his mom he was transferring schools. After Hawkins graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting he moved to Los Angeles.
"I thought I was going to be this big movie star," said Hawkins. " I stayed in L.A. for 25 years and bounced around writing screenplays, giving speeches and performing poetry. The performance poetry stuck more than anything else so I started doing readings, performance art and solo shows."
After a brief foray in New York City to do a play through the New York International Fringe Festival, Hawkins returned to Robbins to care for his ailing mom and develop his career here in Chicago.
While taking care of his mom he received his Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing through Antioch University. He gave a reading of his master's thesis six years ago and is turning it into a book, "What Men Do". To listen to his reading visit, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzOr3d5rNAk.
Hawkins noted that his style of performing can make people both weep and laugh.
"I'm the love child of James Baldwin, Aretha Franklin and Langston Hughes," said Hawkins. "It takes a lot of ingredients to make this stew. I have traits of all three of these performers."
Hawkins describes himself as a same gender loving man and did a performance at Disney Hall/Redcat Theater ( www.youtube.com/watch ) explaining the difference between the terms gay and same-gender loving.
Recently, Hawkins was able to showcase his work at OUTspoken!, Sidetrack's monthly LGBTQ storytelling event. Hawkins came to the attention of the OUTspoken! organizers through the This Much is True Chicago storytelling series.
He's also performed at Follow Spot, a monthly performance-art showcase in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.
"That was a huge night for me because the audience was digging me from the first line," said Hawkins. "The thing is if you give a performer good eye contact or a laugh or if they can see you listening they will give that back to the audience and that's what happened that night. All I remember are the laughs. I didn't know that my story would be that funny. To hear people chuckling from beginning to end was one of the great pleasures of my life and it was one of my favorite performances for that reason. It made me dig in deeper."
Along with his OUTspoken!, This Much is True and Follow Spot appearances, Hawkins has also performed at the Gerber/Hart Library & Archives, Center on Halsted, Rhino Fest- Prop Theatre, This Much is True Chicago Storytelling, the Rustbelt Revival at Links Hall, Homolatte Reading Series, the William Leonard Library, Scott Free's Alt Q Music Festival at the Old Town School of Music and, most recently, at the Fillet of Solo Festival 2016.
"I was the lone poet at the [Alt Q] festival and performed three of my favorite performance poems, one a tribute to Aretha Franklin in front of a receptive audience," said Hawkins. "I performed a comedy routine to introduce my poems and sang 'The Greatest Love of All'. My voice sucked but I warned the audience beforehand and they indulged my bucket-list fantasy."
Aside from performing in the Chicagoland area, Hawkins has also been able to travel around the country and perform due to his amazing success rate at applying for and receiving fellowships and scholarships. He's been to Martha's Vineyard and Provincetown among other locales.
Hawkins was also one of the leads in "Civil Warriors," a spoken-word movie about real African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War and was named Lambda Literary Fellow, Nonfiction in 2013.
He's also be the featured essayist in the 2016 winter/spring edition of the online literary journal, Lunch Ticket ( www.lunchticket.org ) .
"Stick around," said Hawkins. "There's more to come."
For more information, visit twitter.com/levandhawkins1 and www.facebook.com/levandhawkins .