How Spoken Word Poet Amena Brown Uses Art to Speak Truth About Race, Faith, and Womanhood

Photoe credit: Mary Caroline Russell
Photoe credit: Mary Caroline Russell

In 2002, Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion Movement, invited an unknown artist named Amena Brown to perform her spoken-word poetry at a vision-casting event called One Day Link. The conference was simulcast to over 20,000 people. At the time, Brown had been turned down by graduate schools and faced disappointment. “I did my poem [at the event] and knew that God was trying to say to me, ‘This is why you didn’t get into grad school, and my plans for your life are different than your plans for your life,’” says Brown.

Since then, Brown has toured with Gungor and performed and spoken at Creativity World Forum, Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, the National Poetry Slam, and the annual IF: Gathering, where she will co-lead a pre-conference session for women of color. She participates in the Atlanta poetry scene at Urban Grind Coffee and Java Monkey and over the last seven years has produced four spoken-word albums. Her fifth album, Amena Brown Live, releases this November.

I spoke recently with Brown about poetry, racism, and how performance art impacts her life and faith.

So much of your work as a spoken-word poet involves music and rhythm. With that in mind, what kind of worship music compels you the most? And where do you worship?

The church [my husband and I] attend is called Icon Church—it’s a small, new church plant, and it’s right in our neighborhood [in Atlanta], which we really love. One thing I love about the worship experience there is that it is has soul. I grew up listening to choir music and gospel music and am a lover of soul music in general, so that’s the music that speaks to me about God. In our church service, there’s a mix of what would probably be considered traditional, CCM-sounding worship songs, and there’s some soulfulness in there, some groove and funkiness. That’s a part of how God speaks to me.

How do the arts—music, dance, poetry—inform your relationship with Christ? And conversely, how does your faith inform your work?

Even though I started out doing spoken word in worshipful settings, I don’t consider myself a worship spoken-word poet. I know that I’m a Christian and I’m going to write from that context and framework, but that could mean a lot of things: I’m going to write some poems about God because I love God. And because Jesus saved my life, I’m going to write about Jesus. And I’m going to write some poems about being a woman because I’m a woman and because I’ve experienced what it’s like to live in the world as a girl. And I’m going to write some poems about what it’s like to be a black woman, and about what it’s like to have grown up in the South, and about what it’s like to have been in love and to have my heart broken. I’m going to write about those things because I’ve also experienced those things, and writing about those things is not any less holy than writing a poem that is explicitly about God. If I write a poem about grieving or a poem about being in love, God can also shine through those things.

I find that a lot of the art that influences my relationship with God is not art that would typically be done in a more traditional church service. [For example,] Beyonce’s Lemonade is very spiritual to me. Erykah Badu’s music also has been some of the music that God has really used to communicate his heart to me and to echo the scriptures to me. So I find that a lot of my most spiritually impacting moments have not happened in a traditionally sacred space, but nonetheless spaces that were actually very sacred. The groove and the soul, the harmonies—all of that really speaks to me a lot.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Andrea Palpant Dilley

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