By BRYAN THAO WORRA
AAP staff writer
Michelle Myers is a writer and activist and a founding member of the spoken word group, Yellow Rage (www.yellowrage.com). Yellow Rage has been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and toured across the country and y released an album “Black Hair, Brown Eyes, Yellow Rage, Vol. 1”. She is becoming a frequent visitor to Minnesota. As a solo artist, Michelle is dedicated to raising awareness about social injustices and building positive relationships across communities.Myers solo performance credits include the 2002 Vincent Chin Remembrance events in Detroit, MI; the 2005 APIA Spoken Word and Poetry Summit in Boston, MA; the 2009 TruJustice Protest and Rally outside the Capitol Building in Austin, TX; and the 2009 Up in Arms benefit concert for Fong Lee’s family and to protest police brutality in Minneapolis, MN.
She holds a Ph.D. in English from Temple University and currently teaches as an Assistant Professor and Reading/Writing Faculty Specialist in the Central Learning Lab at Community College of Philadelphia, and as the faculty advisor for the Spoken Word Poetry Club. She is also a featured artist in Jessica Chen Drammeh’s documentary film Anomaly, a film exploring the mixed race experience.
Asian American Press had a chance to discuss her work:
AAP: We often hear about how writers get started, but what keeps you going as a writer?
Michelle Myers: There are a couple of significant motivational forces behind my continuing to write. First of all, I am always touched by the people I meet everyday who tell me that they’ve been moved by my poetry and my performances, who thank me for sharing my work, and who give me the inspiration and strength to continue.
These conversations and encounters are what make it worthwhile to me – that give me hope that I am indeed making a difference in the world and in people’s lives in some small way. I am also motivated to keep writing because of my own desire and need to grow as an artist.
I’m continually seeking balance, happiness, and fulfillment in/through my work, and I’m constantly pushing myself to find ways to express my thoughts and feelings that feel true to who I am as a person/artist now and who I hope to become.
AAP: What are the themes you really enjoy examining in your work?
MM: Over the years, the themes I’ve focused on have been anti-Asian violence, human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and community building – not because I’ve “enjoyed” exploring these themes per se but because they’ve been important to me. Right now, I’m writing a series of poems which I’m calling my SHE poems. They are very women-centered and explore in very complex ways themes of love, beauty, relationships, strength, spirituality, violence, sensuality, betrayal, trust and how these impact women in varying degrees and on multiple levels. Through a universal She perspective, I’m trying to humanize women in a way that both illuminates and celebrates our essential beauty and power.
AAP: What’s been one of the most surprising things you’ve learned over the years as a performer?
MM: What an interesting question! I think that the most surprising thing that I’ve learned over the years as a performer is that real, honest emotion can reach even the most skeptical person. Every time I step on the stage, I believe that I have the power to make anyone in the audience feel what I feel. And even if I don’t change minds or get anyone to act beyond the scope of the performance itself, I was able to open myself to them just as they opened themselves to me, if only for a moment. And it’s in the potential for that exchange to spark a movement that gives me hope – that’s the point of ripping out my heart on stage and trusting the audience to handle it with care.
AAP: What’s been one of the most memorable things someone has said to you about your work?
MM: The most memorable thing anyone said to me about my work…there are 2 that stand out for me. One was when my friend from high school came to see me perform in NYC, and afterwards, she told me that when I perform, I seem to be “20 feet tall.”
Another was when I performed at a protest/rally outside the Texas Capitol Building in Austin last May 2009. After the performance, a young lady came up to me and told me my poetry was “beautiful.” I usually hear words like “powerful” and “fierce” and “amazing.” And though my friends tell me my work is beautiful all the time, this was the first time a random audience member had used that word to describe my work. It made me feel good but also proud and humble at the same time.
AAP: Where does Asian American art need to push itself in the coming decade ahead?
MM: That is a very tough question. I think it’s difficult to analyze Asian American art broadly since the term encompasses so many different art forms as well as many different artists representing a multitude of disciplines, personalities, approaches, interests etc. But I think that as one such Asian American artist, what I would like to see most is more efforts to community-build. I feel like we get so caught up in our own immediacies – whatever those are – that we often miss opportunities to support one another in very important ways. I hope that in the years to come, we can discover ways to be connected and supportive and to assist each other in a movement of growth that will serve to benefit our community at-large.