Britta B., 2021 Recipient

Britta B. is a poet, performer, emcee, voice actor, and educator. She teaches poetry and social justice workshops with organizations like JAYU (pronounced JAH-YOU), the League of Canadian Poets and Prologue Performing Arts. Britta is currently a Creative Writing MFA candidate at University of Guelph.

We had the great fortune to catch up with Britta, finalist for the 2021 Emerging Artist Award. Read about what's going on with Britta below!

We last caught up with you in September 2020. What kind of artistic projects have you been working on since then?

Since the last Mayor’s Arts Lunch, I’ve been hustlin’. Along with attending grad school full-time (online due to C19) and starting my thesis poetry project, I’ve:  

  • Self-published a chapbook called Black Boots 
  • Co-curated several poetry showcases at arts festivals like HRFF+, Toronto International Festival of Authors and Bergen Lit Fest 
  • Organized and co-hosted JAYU’s first-ever Human Rights Poetry Slam, alongside National Champ Desiree Mckenzie 
  • Appeared as a voice actor in a Factory Theatre produced audio drama called Toronto Pigeons, written by Luke Reece
  • Served as Editor for a rising poet’s manuscript at Latitude 46 Publishing
  • Moderated an interview with author, Cherie Jones, as part of Toronto Public Library’s Black History Series 
  • Mentored 10 youth in JAYU’s iAM arts and social justice training programs 
  • Continued to (virtually) tour college and university campuses across Ontario as an emcee, performer and teaching artist 
  • Continued to (virtually) showcase and keynote Ontario-based elementary and secondary schools 
  • Started a music + poetry group called Cowrie with producer Pursuit Grooves !!!!

Wow! That's a lot. What’s inspiring your work these days? 

I have towers of books, poems, lyrics, studies and stories inspiring my work these days. Never out of inspiration as long as I make time to read. #ReadOutLoudFam

As you consider yourself an educator as well as a performer, how have you been able to connect with people and community from a distance?

Moving to online performance and teaching was a big transition for me as someone who works in an artform that demands interaction with a live audience. One of the best parts about being a performer who works onstage is being able to see the audience’s reaction. Thanks to arts-based organizations like JAYU, Poetry in Voice, and Prologue Performing Arts, I’ve been getting great practice at teaching and performing virtually. Even from behind the screen, I am able to feel like I’m speaking to a room full of people because I make sure to do lots of vibe checks and the chat function is always exploding with questions and responses to the work.

Can you tell us a little about your Open Drawer Poetry Contest?

When the first wave of lockdowns hit, I wanted to do something creative to keep community spirits and artists elevated. I decided to create what I needed: 1) a place to see my writing valued and encouraged, 2) more editing practice, and 3) encounters with other BIPOC writers. 

Each month, hundreds of writers would open up their old notebooks and send me one “dusty” poem, 30 lines or less. I would choose 3 of my favourite poems from the stack and reward the writers with $25-$150. Regardless of who had the winning poem, I would respond to every single submission with feedback.

This contest was the place to submit work that never saw the light of day (never published, performed or previously shared). It was exciting to see how many gems folks were hiding! Writers would message me to say the contest helped them gain appreciation for the writing process and that they looked forward to the feedback I gave them. I celebrate the fact that BIPOC writers from as far as Nigeria, Ireland and all across Canada, became more comfortable with the idea of submitting to publishers and writing contests. 

The Open Drawer Poetry Contest ran from April to December 2020. Proudly, I was able to give away over $1300 from my own pocket + a few anonymous donors who generously supported and saw the value of the contest. 

I hope this contest makes a return and inspires other contests like it.   

So, what’s next? 

Defending my thesis, graduating grad school with an MFA in poetry, and getting Cowrie featured on a Kid Cudi track (:

You were a finalist in 2020, how does it feel to be nominated for the Emerging Artist Award for the second year in a row?

I was truly shocked to receive the call. I thought there had been a mistake made. My nominators managed to keep their nominations a secret and what a surprise to learn there was a whole team of artists, activists, and mentors pushing my name forward! 

I am beyond humbled and honoured to be a finalist for the second year in a row. Part of my power is knowing I have a sense of belonging and purpose. This nomination symbolizes that I am supported, seen, and cheered for more than I’ll ever know (or knew). My hope is to pay this recognition forward.