Andrea Gibson: In Conversation

By Brenna McDuffie

Last month, the Radcliffe Union of Students invited Spoken Word poet Andrea Gibson to perform Harvard. The event was sponsored by several other feminist and gender awareness groups on campus. Surrounding the event, I had the chance to connect with Andrea. We exchanged emails about her poetic inspiration, the power of human emotions, and the potential for art to remedy our modern inequalities.

What moves you to write your material?

Anything that moves me to feel.  If I feel something, I typically start writing about it.  And I feel a lot about a lot of things, so I write often.

Why do you think spoken word is a good platform for activism?

I don’t believe people’s minds change very quickly, or very easily.  But I think someone’s  heart can change in an instant, and that’s the power of art.  Art changes the landscape of our hearts and from there our minds tend to follow.

More specifically, why is it a good platform for the sorts of issues you speak about —  patriarchy, feminism, gender politics?

Spoken word is a powerful way to speak to each of those issues, as it involves just that…speaking, and speaking UP with a presenced, intentional and passionate heart. I trust the energy of our emotion, and when expressed creatively I think it can be absolutely transformative.

What feminists or movements of feminism and gender activism inspire you today?    

With the passing of Leslie Feinberg this past week I’ve been thinking a lot about Leslie’s life and work, and while feeling a lot of grief I have also been feeling such a well of gratitude.  Leslie was an artist and activist whose passion for justice wasn’t singularly focused.  I can’t think of another human who has inspired me more, personally, to think and feel outside of myself, and to live with the intention of helping to create a more compassionate world.

What kind of issues need the most activist support today, in 2014? Or in other words, what worries you; what keeps you up at night? 

Lately, I’ve been specifically motivated by my responsibility as a white person living in a white supremacist culture. I’m interested in speaking to issues of privilege and being part of dismantling a horrifically racist system. I don’t think it should ever be the responsibility or burden of People of Color to educate white people about their privilege and there is so much work to be done. I want the queer communities I am a part of to have that always in the forefront of our actions and our drive.  

And on the other hand, what gives you hope?

I find a lot of hope in my general faith in the goodness of people.  I believe in healing. I believe in restorative justice. I believe that love is fierce and able.   I believe the more informed we are the kinder we become. I believe in our becoming. (And i want us to quicken our pace.)

What do you hope your art brought to the Harvard community when you performed here? 

I once worked with a group called Vox Feminista. Our motto was “To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” That was my hope for my visit to Harvard.

What advice might you give to students who are interested in bringing about social change through art?     

We live in a destructive world, at a destructive time. I think creativity is one necessary remedy to that. Living in full expression, uncensored truth telling, nurturing our own fire and light — that is so healing, and a gift to ourselves and our communities. Trust your own heart and its ability to tell an important story.  It will reshape where we go from here.

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