Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City, N.Y. She holds a B.A. in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over twelve years of performance experience, Acevedo has been featured on BET and Mun2, and has delivered several TED Talks. She has performed nationally and internationally at famed venues such as The Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts and South Africa’s State Theatre. Several of her poetry videos have gone viral and been picked up by PBS, Latina Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Upworthy. Acevedo is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C, where she lives and works. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Puerto Del Sol, Callaloo, Poet Lore and others. Acevedo is a Cave Canem Fellow, Cantomundo Fellow and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. Her manuscript, Blessed Fruit & Other Origin Myths, was a finalist for Yes Yes Books’ chapbook poetry prize and will be published in September 2016. Ms. Acevedo spoke with Academic Information Officer, Steven Krolak.
Your poetry fuses hip-hop drive, the tonal dexterity of English and the music of the Dominican experience. What do these influences mean to you, and are there others you are inspired by?
These influences certainly make up who I am. I always draw from my experiences. I fundamentally believe that the personal and specific is what makes great art. I’m a big reader so I draw a lot from those sources. From my relationships, familial and romantic. As well as my engagement with current events. All of these influences come into my work.
How is poetry “carried in the body,” as you have said?
Although I publish plenty of work and have several books coming out, I still believe in memorizing a poem. Not because performance is the only way to get work across, but because something happens to a poem once it’s in your body. I think it changes us to have a work of art that we can recite at any moment to ourselves.
You have said, “The personal is political.” How does this animate your poetry?
It means that I am continuously engaged with how my work not only reflects myself, but reflects the times. I find it important that although a poem can be lighthearted or romantic it can still say something about the times we live in.
In speaking of poetry as a way to draw attention to and combat violence against women, why do you describe it as a language of hope?
Poetry to me is fundamentally hopeful. In writing and sharing we are saying that our experience is worthy of being written, being processed by a collective, being witness. I think there’s hope in all of those goals.
What concerns lie at the center of your new book, Beastgirl?
Beastgirl is a collection of poems concerned with womanhood, with race and colonialism, with the urban and the island, and most importantly, with the myth we come from that defines who we are. It is a collection obsessed with “sacred monsters”—the monsters we learn about when we’re children, and also the monster we can become if we aren’t careful of hatred and bigotry being shelled out in the world.
What advice or encouragement do you have to offer aspiring poets?
Keep reading. Keep writing. If you’re afraid of a subject, that’s a good thing. You have to care to be afraid, but the payoff of taking a risk in your writing is huge. Not just in terms of your professional life, but in terms of what happens to you as a human when you realize your vulnerability connects you to the world.
Elizabeth Acevedo will perform on Wed., Oct. 26, from 12:15–1 p.m. in the UC Commons. This event is part of the Spoken Word Series presented by the Student Program Council (SPC). The Student Program Council contributes to the overall student development program at IU Southeast by providing social, educational, cultural, and entertainment opportunities.
Photos of Elizabeth Acevedo by Stephanie Ifendu.