'Staceyann Chin for president!' yelled an inspired fan in the audience of the performance space of Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, site of a recent Global Gays Initiative event.
Poet, writer, performer and artist Staceyann Chin read to an intimate crowd Feb. 6. Chin, a Black lesbian from Jamaica, read excerpts from her upcoming memoir The Other Side of Paradise, a collection of experiences throughout her life.
Windy City Times talks with poet/activist/performer Staceyann Chin ( left ) . Staceyann Chin ( right ) with activist Jackie Anderson. Photo provided by Linda 'Kizzy' Ramos.
Chin talked about her views on politics and the state of America with Windy City Times—and there is definitely a lot to Staceyann Chin, the person.
Windy City Times: How have you been enjoying Chicago so far?
Staceyann Chin: I always love Chicago, man. Chicago is a city that welcomes you and holds you and sways you. It's a sexy little city and I always love to come here.
WCT: I agree, I always say that Chicago is charming, well that's why I'm here. Have you been doing anything fun while you've been here? [ Laughs ]
SC: When I come to work I just I work; I'm in my hotel. I didn't really come to hang out so I just work.
WCT: You performed at another event here at the Center on Halsted last night for POW-WOW, [ a group of Black gay and lesbian spoken-word artists ] . How was [ it ] ?
SC: It was good as usual, the women turned out it was great we had a good time.
WCT: Before we move forward. For all of the readers who are unaware, who is Staceyann Chin?
SC: To this point: Writer, Jamaican, lesbian, dike, Brooklynite...you know.
WCT: Yeah, how would you describe your writing?
SC: I think that it's activist driven; I think it's multifaceted in terms of the number of people it's housing. Black lesbians. It's driven by social activism. The types of things I am interested in.
WCT: I want to talk just briefly about the Gay Games performance. I remember how people were literally in tears. Why do you think it has had such a big impact?
SC: Because we are caught in this idea where we are so intent on celebrating how far we've come that, we are not in a place where we can critique how far we haven't come. I think people were just welcoming to a voice, they were just relieved to hear a voice voicing our own critiques we are not saying.
WCT: I'd say that you're pretty successful, I see your poems and speeches all over the place. As an outspoken activist and artist, why do you think you're so successful?
SC: Some of it is racism and some of it is sexism. Some of it is size-ism, 'I'm the right size, I'm not as threatening as a gay man.' I'm a light-skinned Black woman, just that as a backdrop. But I also think it is because I work very hard to make sure that the communication that I have with people is precise; it's honest. And I move with the greatest of integrity, I think, I try my best to do that. I try not to lie about anything. I have an article coming out in the [ New York ] Times in two weeks and it talks about my relationship with lying and how I was a kid and I lied about everything and how I decided not to do that. And now I overcompensate by kind of telling the truth about everything.
WCT: I know right now in America everyone has an opinion about the way things are going with the primaries and Barack and Hillary. What do you think about the state of America right now?
SC: Well, I wrote a poem on my blog this morning, my Myspace and my Facebook blog, about being torn where the woman parts of me wants to—did you read it? [ WCT: Yes, I read it. ] I feel as if I am I am torn, I am torn more from a point of view of wanting representation in those places of power. Even if I don't entirely agree with those candidates. The Black person in me rejoices that there might be a Black person in the White House and the woman in me rejoices that there might be a woman, even though I really just like John Edwards. [ The blog ] talks about how complex race and sex and, you know, they just kind of steer us off the issues.
WCT: And the candidates now—how do you feel about them?
SC: America needs, I think, a drastic change to redeem itself in the world. Or else this will be Rome falling [ although ] you know, in a historical context Rome falling is no big deal; Rome rises somewhere else. Maybe Rome will be China next time. I don't know, but I certainly wasn't born in a Rome—I was born in Jamaica—so it's not a big concern.
I'm really concerned about the bodies on the planet, as globalization shrinks the planet, and as America becomes more of a world power and its failing to take care of itself. How is it that we are good to each other and how is it that we are taking care of Africa as a continent in terms of hunger and safety for those people who live in that space? How is it that we are working on the issue of women's bodies and keeping them safe in their homes and keeping homosexuals safe in Jamaica and poor people fed in Montego Bay? I feel like now that America is an imperialistic world power [ that ] is imploding, we need to stop looking at the country. We need to start looking at how is it we are going to start saving this world ... the people who live in it, and how are we going to go back to a place where we are more human with each other so I can look you in the face because I'm not moving too fast.
WCT: Is there an issue, as far as the candidates, that stands out for you?
SC: John Edwards, when he was on the ticket, talked about poor people, and he had to call these people and make sure that poverty would be a central issue before he bowed out. I like the universal health care that [ Clinton ] is putting forward. I like that she's mandating everyone to have health insurance because you can't mandate anybody without a way to do it. There shouldn't be any mandate necessary because people should have health insurance. I mean what kind of bullshit is that, people can get sick and they can't have the medicine that is just beyond the walls. I also like the way that [ Obama ] talks about shaking up the whole political process. I believe that we shouldn't be looking up for a savior so much as we should be looking for how is it we can deconstruct a political system that is not working.
WCT: Have you seen Obama's Yes, We Can video by Will.i.am?
SC: No, but I get worried with Barack because I don't hear him saying a lot but he says a lot. [ Laughs ] He's a good politician but, about that, it's rhetoric. I watch it and, if he wins then he wins, but I'll see. I don't know how much it will change my life. I know if Hillary wins, little girls will be saying 'I can be president' and if Barack wins, then little Black kids will start saying 'I can be president.'
WCT: Yeah, that's something to think about; I do want to bring it back to you for a second. [ About ] your memoir: I was amazed by listening to your stories. It's going to be called the Other Side of Paradise. When do you expect it to come out?
SC: Next February...
SC: Yes, we'll be ready to roll and move.
WCT: What advice would you give to youth or to anyone who wants to do this, what you do?
SC: You have to get involved. You have to get out there. You have to get out from in front of your computer. You have to get out there and interact with people. You have to get back to the grassroots idea of social justice. You have to touch people; otherwise, all we are doing is just looking at statistics.
WCT: So [ what's ] next for you?
SC: I'm going back home. I have a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum tomorrow in New York city. This memoir and I am also working on an idea for another book. You know, I am a social person and anything that is going to engender a social justice agenda, that's where I'm headed.