Three Time Austin Slam Poet Champion Ebony Stewart Speaks on Love, Sex, Relationships
By Jayden Beatty
She describes her first slam to be exhilarating. A place where time ceased to exist and where she experienced a wholly unique and addictive rush. The poem was called Microphone Fiend and it felt good to be the center of attention when no one could do anything about it. She was invincible during that 3 minutes and ever since then she’s been hooked.
The only woman to be the three time Austin Slam Poetry Champion , Ebony Stewart was the featured artist at Friday Night Live last week. The event we co-sponsored by UPC and Perfectly Pearl. While on campus, Ebony taught a workshop titled “Sex, Love, and Above” and later performed some of her poems in the Cove.
Stewart is currently on her RISE! tour where she promotes sexual health, positive body image and healthy relationships. Before writing poetry Stewart taught English for eight years and now teaches sexual health to 6th and 7th graders on top of writing and performing her work.
“Going around to different parts of the U.S. and addressing the questions that get asked to me has been really eye opening to me to so many different opinions and that everything isn’t universal,” Stewart said. “I’m hoping that because of this tour there is more of a positive body image and ways that we are acting in our higher selves when it comes to each other.”
Ebony is known as the “Gully Princess” in the poetry world for her ability to be aggressive while on the mic and shy offstage. She was given the nickname by fellow poet Sarah Epoff.
“For me, the poetry community is like a family and in family there is disfunction,” Stewart said. “In dysfunctional families it means it is okay to be dysfunctional but that’s not necessarily healthy or should necessarily be allowed. What I bring to the family is to call people out on their shit at any cost. I think that is valuable for me to do because it keeps me honest and us safe in the space of slam poetry and the community itself. As a whole people hold each other responsible and we also hold each other in the moments that we need for love or encouragement or just to hang out because we have this common interest and we care a lot about what we’re doing to express ourself. It’s all in the name of a family atmosphere.”
After being coached by Bryan Francis, Kimberly D. Taylor and Michael Wayland, Stewart went on to coach winning slam poet teams including two that are nationally ranked.
“A successful poet is someone who is able to write the truth and write relatable poetry,” Stewart said. “It is also being able to understand that slam poetry is a game just like anything else and knowing that on any given day your best poem may not be the best poem. I often stress staying true to yourself in any avenue of any art form.”
Stewart is what she calls a puzzle piece writer meaning that she writes different lines and notes whenever she thinks of them and then organizes them into a poem later on.
“In my phone I can show you notes and I have lines that I don’t know why they came to me or what they’re for but I’ll put them in my phone and say I’ll revisit it later,” Stewart said. “When I sit down to write a poem I first look at those notes. Sometimes there is already a poem that is on my mind that I want to write or that I need to write but I’ll still go through those notes and lines to see if they match. Then once I write the poem I look at it and think should this line go here or here. So it’s like putting a puzzle together.”
Stewart said that performing the poem titled, Daniel Sings the Blues, was the moment she knew that writing was what she was supposed to be doing.
“It’s about a student who would always be in my room back when I taught English,” Stewart said. “This was the first time I had ever dealt with a student telling me that they had been molested and I wrote a poem about it. It hurt to do the poem but it felt freeing for her to make that known that this is happening and that she is able to still be standing and still be a productive human being. That [the moment] was like, alright this is obviously what I’m meant to do.”
Stewart’s set choice for her performance was inspired by March being national Women’s History Month and national Poetry Month. She performed several poems and allowed students to ask her anonymous questions by submitting them on pieces of paper in a bucket that she could draw on. The questions surrounded topics including sex, relationships, clothing, poetry and more. Stewart said that the people that have inspired her include Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and Lucille Clifton.
“I’m really big on women writers who are women of color because often times I get to hear someone that doesn’t look like me or identify as I do,” Stewart said. “It’s empowering to hear these women speak their truth in the way that I would or the way I sound and it be ok. I always look for those types of writer and I want to be a writer that is just as strong.”
While Stewart doesn’t slam as much any more but she does continue to write and said that the reason she writes poetry is because poetry saved her life. Stewart’s mother is calling this year Ebony’s year as she continues to write, perform and teach.
“When you get into very depressive states or into those moments when you don’t think there is any light in the day, rolling over and writing poetry for me is necessary,” Stewart said. “I keep a little notepad on me all the time so I can make sure that I am writing the healing I need to remember myself and it’s imperative for that to happen because you can’t always depend on somebody else to be there for you. It’s important for me to know how to save myself and to remember myself so when my parents were going through that horrible divorce, or when I’ve been in really abusive relationships- getting out of those moments, writing was the way that solved that problem for me. Even if it was just writing the events as they occurred. For me to go back and read that and see that I got out of it lets me know that there will be other events and other hurts and other pain that will take place but that I will survive it because I’ve done it before.”