By Grayson Ruhl
On Thursday March 3, Sonya Renee Taylor visited Sewanee to perform “A Night of Spoken Word” in Founder’s Hall of the Sewanee Inn. Taylor is a performance poet, activist, and the leader of “The Body is Not An Apology,” a movement that encourages body empowerment and self-love that reaches over one hundred thousand followers weekly. Taylor focuses on intersectionality, combining feminist themes with commentary on race and varying gender issues. She has won awards and published her riveting works. Among many other accomplishments, Taylor performed for the “1 in 3 Campaign”, and the New York Times has published her work. Students and community members gathered at the Sewanee Inn to hear Taylor’s stirring slam poetry, hosted by the Wick, the Writing House, the Dean of the College, and the African American Alliance. Taylor performed many pieces with varying emphases and encouraged the audience to speak up throughout: she insisted, “I want you all to be as loud as my boobs are big!” Some of her poems demonstrated how people are connected in sharing the human experience. Another spoken word performance told the story of her abortion, which she received as a busy college sophomore. Taylor declared that she is “unapologetic” concerning her abortion and made an unequivocal argument for legal and safe access to abortion services.
Taylor also performed a poem about a dream she once had wherein her father was president of the United States. Upon awaking from this dream, she learned that Barack Obama had been elected. This was a pivotal moment in her life, as she was overcome with joy that a black man had been elected president of the United States. Equally moving, Taylor’s performance of “Bloodbath,” a poem by Christian Drake, recounted a lover’s journey with sexual intercourse during menstruation. This passionate and hilarious poetry performance was a bloody good period piece! Students were enthralled by Taylor’s immersive performances and enjoyed her call and response activities, which engaged students in her stirring poems. Co-director of the Wick Auxiliary Board, Armonté Butler (C’17), commented on Taylor’s intersection of feminism with racial and gender issues: “I really enjoyed how she represented body positivity from an intersectional perspective that reflects how all bodies—queer, trans, gender non-conforming, Black, Asian, etc.—must be included into the social justice work that we’re all doing to make campus more inclusive.” Similarly, co-director of the Writing House, Zack Loehle (C’17), recognized her artistic ability, explaining, “Taylor’s performance was a powerful blend of performance and language, personal narrative and audience participation. I felt very moved by her poetry.” Wick resident Rachel Chu (C ‘17) described Taylor’s performance as “transformative,” and explained, “There was one poem she performed that made me sob where someone, maybe she, encounters a woman with cancer when working at Ann Taylor and doesn’t find out until after she judges the woman; she made me feel every feeling she was feeling in the moments of the poem.” Chu noted, “She definitely caught me crying in the front row.” Bess Pearson (C’18) was also profoundly moved by Taylor’s performance, having connected with Taylor’s performance, “My Mother’s Belly.” Pearson explains, “this one truly spoke to me and crystallized a situation I thought I would not be able to understand until experiencing it firsthand. Watching the passion behind the poem as she cried while she read it made the experience feel really intimate. I loved how real she was throughout all of her poems – she wasn’t trying to be anyone but herself, and that was refreshing.” Erin Moore (C’18) also commented on this piece, explaining, “It reminded me of the relationship I have with my mother, and in a sense how that relationship is where my self-love and at times self-doubt comes from… I loved how many layers her poems contained and how each piece kept you on your seat for the resolution which every time was eloquent, personal and very relatable.”
Taylor’s performances demonstrated how various issues are related and elicited a broad array of emotions. Students and community members cheered, cried, yelled, and laughed throughout this spoken word performance, and Taylor was eager to give hugs and pose for pictures afterward. Her unapologetic and passionate performance left an impression on all who attended.