Thursday, May 11, 2023 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-open-mic-wandrea-vocab-sanderson-tickets-556328562707
San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson will be our in-person feature for this hybrid in-store/Zoom event. Sanderson is the first Black Poet Laureate of San Antonio, 2020-2023 and a San Antonio native. Her debut poetry collection, She Lives in Music, was published by FlowerSong Press in 2020.
Sanderson’s dynamic performance style is an originally crafted fusion of spoken word poetry, hip hop and soulful rhythm and blues. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including: Dream Voice 2018, People’s Choice Award 2019, Best Literary Advocate 2021 San Antonio Magazine, and The Arts and Letters Award by Friends of San Antonio Public Library in 2020. Best Local Poet 2021 by The San Antonio Current. She serves as a Teaching Artist for Gemini Ink.
In 2021, she received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship. Vocab was recently awarded a NPN Creation Fund grant for her upcoming theater production, The Seasoned Woman co-commissioned by The Carver and Art2Action. Her music is available on all music streaming platforms. https://andreavocabsanderson.com
CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you begin to connect with it as a means of expression?
AVS: At age six I typed a poem for my mother on my aunts’ typewriter. I remember being so excited to share it with my mom on the way back from Corpus Christi to San Antonio. I tried to make her read it while she was driving.
CH: You’ve had an interesting trajectory as a poet and performer, and I know that music has been important to you and theater has also played a part. How would you describe yourself as an artist?
AVS: I most describe myself as a performance poet , rapper and vocalist. It is very difficult to try to summarize it to other people, especially if they aren’t an artist themselves. I would like to think I am an entertainer most days.
CH: I understand that you began writing songs when you were in high school. What led you in that direction? How do you see the connection between songwriting and poetry? How did your relationship with music (inside the poem and outside the text) develop during this time?
AVS: I started rapping around 14 or 15 years old. That’s where a lot of frustration and also a lot of spirituality was housed lyrically. On paper I could let my imagination run and create other personas for all of my little character traits. I had different pseudonyms for all of my styles and I didn’t even realize how much was springing up out of me.
I grew up in a church being a part of so many different auxiliaries. I was on the drama team, the dance team, youth choir president, the praise team, the usher board, and even youth leadership. I did everything and always challenged myself to learn more and take on more responsibility. So naturally when it came to my writing I wanted to sing just as much as I wanted to do all of the other forms. Then Jill Scott came along doing poetry and singing around the time I turned 20 and I felt like her style gave me permission to do it all together in one piece.
CH: I understand that for several years you focused on a career in slam poetry. Tell us a little about that experience. How did slam change your approach to writing and performance?
AVS: In 2004 I heard Amalia Ortiz and Anthony The Poet Flores for the first time. I saw how dramatization and spoken word met each other and I was determined to receive standing ovations, memorize my work, and finally slam for the 1st time. I made the San Antonio Puro Slam Team in 2005, 2006, 2007 I slammed for Corpus, 2008 I was back on Puro Slam team. I really developed my own voice through slam. I learned how to be professional and I was able to travel all over the U.S. I understood that if someone gave me their attention I had to give them a lasting impression and that being on stage is a shared experience for me and my audience.
CH: I think of the role of poet laureate as one of engaging community with poetry and helping raise its visibility, and you’re in a unique position as San Antonio’s first Black poet laureate. First of all, congratulations on that honor! What did you want to accomplish during your tenure? How has this opportunity impacted your practice of poetry?
AVS: I decided in January of 2020 that I wanted to make it a legacy year for me as a poet. I wanted to participate in and create as many programs and initiatives as possible.
I spent all 3 years of my tenure truly advocating for the literary arts, as well as the poets. I created The Echo Project. The Echo Project was funded by The Mellon Foundation through a fellowship I was awarded from The Academy of American Poets. You can see those videos from The Echo Project on KLRN and Youtube. It was a project that combined interviews conducted of leaders in San Antonio with spoken word and videography.
I did a TEDx Talk where I go into some more details about the things I did at the beginning of my tenure. I helped spread awareness about COVID safety. I worked with nonprofits doing organizing and bringing awareness to policing. I was in an award winning documentary for Juneteenth. I even did a few Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion presentations. I really could go on and on about my collaborations and artist residencies, but that would take a few pages. I just realize that we have to take our role seriously and then others will follow suit.
CH: Tell us a little about your debut book of poetry, She Lives in Music. How did this collection come about?
AVS: I won a grant from Luminaria Artist Foundation. It was based on the People’s Choice category. The book was published on FlowerSong Press in February 14th of 2020.
CH: I understand you also have an album, She Tastes Like Music, that came out in 2019. Given the parallelism between its title and that of your debut book, I’m curious—how do the two pieces of art relate to each other?
AVS: It was meant to be released as a companion project. The album came 3 months early. Every song on the album is also published in the book as a poem.
CH: You’ve sometimes been called upon to write occasional poetry, as in 2019 when you were asked to create a poem in honor of the San Antonio’s newly elected mayor, Ron Nirenberg. How do you approach writing occasional poems?
AVS: When I am writing commissioned poetry, I like to have conversations with people and really just listen for clues and information I can incorporate into a poem.
CH: Your bio on the FlowerSong Press website mentions your involvement in theater, some of which has been in the context of dance companies. Does your interest in theater extend to playwrighting? What does your theater experience bring to your poetry?
AVS: In 2018 I created the Bad Mama Jamma Mixtape after the Carver Community Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio reach out. This theater production debuted to a sold out audience. I do not consider myself a playwright, yet. In 2020-2021 I had an artist residency at the Carver. In 2022 I won a creative development grant from National Performance Network.
CH: What do you read for pleasure? What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?
AVS: No matter who I read, I always go back to Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou. Try Deborah ‘D.E.E.P.’ Mouton also her new book just dropped, Black Chameleon.