In this YYZ Buddies Exclusive, rising star Tawiah McCarthy sits down with performance artist and author Staceyann Chin after her performance at Hysteria.
Staceyann Chin stepped onto the stage with books and papers in hand. She laid them on the floor and picked up a huge stack of papers. “This is the transcript for the new book, the last one came out last year.” she announced. The audience cheered. Putting the papers down, she adjusted her mic, and opened herself up to the audience.
Prior to this night, I knew of Staceyann as the writer of an intimate, raw and unapologetic memoir, a memoir which brought me to tears and challenged me as a storyteller. I knew her through her memoir, but I met her on stage. In that hour of watching her and hearing her, she became art, she was, “the girl in the book, the woman on the stage.”
I had thousands of questions to ask, about the book and about her writing and performance. This was what came out:
Tawiah McCarthy: Your work has body, has soul, just listening to you……your skin tells the story on its own, and has a heart on its own, and I was just wondering when it all started, where the vision came from, to start doing this, sharing yourself on stage with other people, strangers, you might not know?
Staceyann Chin: I don’t think it so much vision, as it is kind of what happened. I had these experiences, and I wanted to respond to them. I moved to the U.S. because I was a lesbian, because I thought it was going to be like some kind of lesbian paradise. I moved here and I said, ‘oh my god!’ I found out that there is race and all kinds of other shit, to deal with and I just needed a way to talk about it. I needed a way to articulate my experiences, which didn’t line up with what I initially thought it was going to be. Then I discovered poetry and it snowballed from there.
TM: Getting yourself to this level as an artist, to this height, what are some of the challenges you have gone through being you?
SC: I don’t know, I think the challenges today are the same as the challenges there were in the beginning. To be more honest, it was easier in the beginning. It was easier because the expectations weren’t there. Now people expect certain things from me and so I have to work hard and make sure that I am giving what I really feel as suppose to what I think that they want.
TM: Does that take anything away from you as an artist by going through the creative process in that way.
SC: No I always try to think just about the story, and the audience is secondary. But I think that if you are honest about the story, then the audience would be satisfied. That’s what I found. But it is always hard because you will second guess yourself.
TM: The next question, the main question is, we have a youth program here, that allows young writers to come out and express themselves…….find a safe place to express themselves as artist…..my question is if you have any words of advice, being you, and when I say being you; being you from Jamaica, being you with your experiences, you, who is willing to put her sexuality, herself out there, what would be your words of advice to these young artist, who are trying create?
SC: Tell the story and tell the story honestly. I mean however difficult it might be or however…….whether it’s a story you think people want to hear or not……. you know, tell the story with some grace, with some honesty, with some truth in it……..don’t fall prey to the other things that pull at you, make sure you are loyal to the story, but the thing is to tell the story, whether it is with a pen, or a guitar, or a…..play or a…whatever you feel like, whatever medium is available to you, take it, because if you don’t tell your own story, somebody else will and then the accuracy will be compromised
TM: The next question would, why, why a writer, you said something about, you mention today, actually in your performance as well, that your mom told you to write, and you found the sense…..like everything was forgiven. I know that there is a story that goes further to that, why is that so important to you.
S: I feel like that story is………….You know, you work so hard and being of Colour, so many people……in your family is not happy with the fact that you are not a storyteller of such brutal truth, of such intimate truth and so when one person gives you the go ahead, it makes you feel affirmed and it…..…..it, it…. Makes all those other times when telling it was hard or without any kind of affirmation or any kind of praise or any kind of acknowledgement worth it. You know. it is always good to have people on your team, people who support but they are not primary, they are just secondary.