Twenty-one-year-old writer, spoken word poet and teaching artist Alexandra Stewart, is the current First Citizens National Poetry Slam Champion. A four-time finalist of the same competition and the second-place contestant of the popular poetry competition in 2017, Alexandra has performed both locally and internationally (USA and UK). In spite of the fact that many have questioned her decision, Alexandra decided to make a career out of her passion, a decision that she describes as being one of the most terrifying she has ever made. While all her friends went off to university, she worked with the 2centsmovement on school tours and running workshops, an experience that she says has helped her to improve as both a performer and a teacher. Recently, the WE magazine team got an opportunity to hear from Alexandra. This is her ‘against all odds’ story.
I battled with self-doubt, especially when well-intentioned people encouraged me to go to school, get a real job, and let that “spoken word thing” be my hobby. Sometimes, I wondered if they were right. I grew up in a single parent family and I’ve watched my mum carry the financial burden of an entire household on her back. I’ve watched her pray and make bread and fish type miracles for dinner. There I was choosing to spend my time on poetry. Most artists know the fear and the doubt of ignoring the traditional route. However, there are people making this work and I want to be one of them. I’ve felt frustrated and overwhelmed but giving up has never been an option. This is not a story of what I have overcome but what I hope to continue overcoming.
After four years in the finals, it feels so good to win the title of Slam Champion. Strangers hail me out on the street with congratulations and budding poets message me for advice more than before. I am incredibly grateful for all the support. Now that I’ve achieved this goal I’m eager to produce my first solo show as well as a few secret projects that I know will excite my audiences.
There wasn’t an ‘AHA’ moment in my life that made me realise that poetry was my ideal form of expression. When did your best friend become your best friend? Most of us can’t pinpoint a date but we know it was somewhere between hello and I love you. I always loved reading and when the books I wanted to read didn’t exist, I just decided to write them. When writing books seemed to take too long I decided to try poems. Discovering poetry was like finding a cheat code to the four-minute novel. If art was a country, writing would be my neighbourhood and poetry would be the house I live in. Even though sometimes I vacation in many other places (writing short stories, painting, playing the piano, dancing) I always come home to poetry.
They say art inspires art. I say they’re right. Music fills me up with the desire to create. I listen to everything from Chopin to Miles Davis to Ed Sheeran to Kes to Freetown to Hans Zimmer. I’m also a voracious reader: you’ll find me nose-deep in Spanish dictionaries, love poems, crime novels or the Bible. My favourite story right now is ‘The Man in Bogota’ by Amy Hempel. Who inspires me most? God. I always find new poems after spending time in the presence of creation; sunsets, mountains, people and the foamy tip of a Maracas wave.
My greatest blessing is my family. I truly treasure how they continue to invest time, energy and support without expecting anything except that I do my best. My mum especially has sacrificed more than I can thank her for. This interview wouldn’t exist if weren’t for her love. My brother is my best friend. My aunt and uncle are always just a phone call away. I know that not everyone has this, and I refuse to ever take such a gift for granted.
You can find out what Alexandra is up to and see performances on Instagram @talktothefro. Or join her mailing list for blogs and poetry on firstname.lastname@example.org. Her facebook page is Alexandra C Stewart. For bookings email: Acgstewart@hotmail.com.