Interview With Yvonne O! Etaghene (September 2005)

Yvonne O! Etaghene, a.k.a. Fly, is a self-described “poetess, freedom fighter, actress, playwright, dancer.” Before embarking on her second tour of the year, she checked in via email with Letsdoitontheroad.com and featured at Words of Wisdom at Spoken-Words Café in Brooklyn, where she blew the roof off and set the place on fire, not just with anger, but with fierce love, too. (She also schooled yours truly and the rest of the audience on how to pronounce her name: It’s e-TA-GHE-ne … get it right!) Find out more about Fly and her work (and her upcoming 2006 tour) at her website: http://www.writeordie.com.

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Yvonne O! Etaghene, a.k.a. Fly, is a self-described “poetess, freedom fighter, actress, playwright, dancer.” Before embarking on her second tour of the year, she checked in via email with Letsdoitontheroad.com and featured at Words of Wisdom at Spoken-Words Café in Brooklyn, where she blew the roof off and set the place on fire, not just with anger, but with fierce love, too. (She also schooled yours truly and the rest of the audience on how to pronounce her name: It’s e-TA-GHE-ne … get it right!) Find out more about Fly and her work (and her upcoming 2006 tour) at her website: www.writeordie.com.

Where have you toured so far this year?

Yvonne O! Etaghene: From May 2005 to July 2005, I performed in Cambridge, Mass., Philly, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Chicago, Bowling Green, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan.

You infuse your work with politics and activism. What kinds of reactions have you received?

YOE: In general people feel my work and respond positively. I have no horror stories of being boo-ed by ignorant crowds who didn’t agree with my politics and I thank GODDESS for that!!

What have you learned about the state of this country while traveling around on tour?

YOE: People are sweet all over. And believe me that was not what I expected to learn. What has struck me over and over is the kindness I’ve been blessed with by people who know nothing about me or where I am from. I’ve also heard some off-the-wall poetry, and I was sitting there like, “Damn, I have honestly never seen anything like this,” but in a strange way I appreciate the offbeat, unexpected shit, it keeps life interesting.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about touring?

YOE: Least favorite: Not having my own things in my own space where and how I want them (!!!) and not always being able to be alone when I want to be alone.

Most favorite: Discovering the tastiest treats to devour in each city, yummy!

What is the best/worst/strangest place that you’ve performed?

YOE: Best place: The Breathing Space in Oakland was dope, because the people I ripped it with were so wonderful. Soul Poetry Cafe at the Hot House in Chicago was lovely just because it is a beautiful space and the crowd was so so warm. And the Mahogany Poetry Series in Sacramento!!!

Worst/strangest: Hands down, that bar I performed in during the Allied
Media Conference
in Bowling Green, Ohio. Dope conference, crazy venue! The performance was in a bar on a Sunday night, and half the folks in there were the regular bar-goers, while the other half were participants from the conference. So I had to battle the drunkards for attention. But I think I won, cuz folks shut up and it’s one of those stories my friends tell now, “Did Yvonne ever tell you about the time she shut up all these drunk people in a bar in Ohio with her poetry…” So it’s cool. At least I got a nice story out of it.

In a column you wrote for dykediva.com awhile back, you said that “the search for love is a search for self.” How does being on tour impact your sense of self? Being in strange places, performing in front of strange people, encountering unfriendly strangers, having to rely on friendly strangers to set things up for you, give you a place to sleep for the night, etc.

YOE: I can’t believe you’re quoting me to me! Thank you, because that is a quote I really need to hold in my heart at all times. Being on the road is such an opportunity for growth and love to flourish. I have definitely been lonely on the road and just wanted to go home and go to bed. I have definitely just wanted to stop performing all together. Sometimes I get sick of my own poetry. But there are also just moments of pure beauty where I just want to stop the whole world and cry in gratitude. People who I just met opening their homes to me while I’m in their city and people just being friendly and having a conversation with me like I’m an old friend. Strangers have kissed my soul with love and I am so thankful and blessed to have met them. Some of those strangers are now my family!

Did you bring your wedding dress on tour with you? 🙂

YOE: No, but I brought cowrie shells and sand from a beach in Santa Rosa. 🙂

Do you adopt a persona that is at all different from how you are in your daily life?

YOE: I am who I am. There is no need to create some other better, doper person to be. Whether you’ve known me for 5 years or a couple days, this is me. I did think about it for a minute tho at the beginning of my tour, and then I was like, no. I am a colorful enough woman without adding another personality. Sometimes tho, I am an even more intense version of myself and that is soooo much fun. 🙂

When/how did you start writing?

YOE: When I was about 9 years old, I started writing horror stories and love stories and just stories in general about young people. It wasn’t until the 6th grade in Mrs. Dominico’s English class that I wrote my first poem.

When did you move from Nigeria to the United States? What brought you here? What are you studying in grad school?

YOE: I was born in the (not so) good ol’ U. S. of A. What brought my parents here was colonialism and how much it has drained the resources of our country to the point that its citizens have to flee to super racist countries like this one so their kids can have an expensive (mis)education. In grad school at New York University, I was studying creative writing and performance poetry. I am currently taking a much needed leave from that institution.

What are three essential things that you cannot go on tour without?

YOE: Cell phone (I know I should be more poetic, but that’s just real), my mama’s wrap (which I love love love!) and my spirit (please note these are so not in order of importance!!)

What’s the first thing you plan to do when you get home from being on the road?

YOE: I plan to eat my mama’s homecooking!!! Oh how these lips, mouth and belly of mine miss the divine luscious deliciousness of my mama’s porridge and chin-chin, homemade pizza and stew, fired plantain and… (I could go on and on!)

Author: schenelle

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction in Jersey City, NJ. Co-author of Using Informational Text to Teach literature series.

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