Words did not always come easily to Amanda Eke. She didn’t speak until she was 5 years old and didn’t start reading until she was 7.
But being a late bloomer didn’t get in her way. When she was in second grade — 7 or 8 years old — her first poem was published in a children’s collection of writings. Now 24, she is a spoken word poet whose words have been her ticket to performing and speaking at universities and on stages around the world. This weekend she will perform and teach in Jackson.
Eke is coming to Jackson for a series of events through Jackson Hole Writers, put on with support from the Center of Wonder.
On Friday, she will give a free performance at 7 p.m. in Dancers’ Workshop Studio 1 at the Center for the Arts.
On Saturday, Eke will host a $15 spoken word poetry workshop from 9 a.m. to noon in the Center’s conference room. Registration, which can found online at JHWriters.org or over the phone at 413-3332, is required.
Eke “is pretty much the most exciting person we’ve brought in,” said Tim Sandlin, executive director of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.
Eke grew up outside Sacramento, California, where she found meaning through music. She also participated in her church choir. Jazz, soul and pop music ranging from Sade to The Temptations played freely throughout her household.
“I found it easy to communicate with music,” Eke said. “Music and writing words down, poetry and performing it, became a better way for me to communicate. There was insecurity because of my inability to speak and read compared to my peers. Music became a healthy outlet for me.”
Through rhythm and lyricism, poetry and music have always been intimately linked. Today Eke finds meaning through an intersection of words, music and political activism.
When she was delving into gender, sexuality and women’s studies at the University of California Davis, Eke focused her senior thesis on black female musicians and their role in contemporary civil rights music, drawing parallels between the likes of Nina Simone and Beyoncé.
“At Davis you’re exposed to a whole universe — university means universe,” Eke said. “I started to travel, not just in California but to different countries, and I began intertwining those experiences into my work.
“Writing a thesis on political activism, it became second nature to start writing about the different things I was beginning to see.”
After college, Eke won a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Malta — a small archipelago between Sicily and northern Africa — where she served as the United States cultural ambassador and taught English, poetry and music.
“Malta opened my mind to transnational culture,” Eke said. “It is right between Africa and Europe, at the intersection of the Mediterranean, but really the intersection of the world.”
Eke is now pursuing her master’s degree in pan-African studies at Syracuse University and she speaks at universities across the country. This weekend she will both perform and present introductory concepts to spoken word poetry.
“The workshop will be for anyone that is a beginner or anyone who wants to jump back on the boat,” she said. “That’s the universality of my workshop. The beauty of is you’ll get to meet me and other like-minded people in the same space.”
Community is an integral part of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference and working as a writer in general, Sandlin echoed.
“If you live in Jackson and write it’s hard to find someone to talk to who has something in common with you,” Sandlin said. “These writers get you jazzed up for writing, plus you can learn a lot of technical things that can help a lot.
“Mostly for me, it’s a matter of getting inspired and excited. A workshop like this really puts a kick in your writing for a long time.”
Get in contact with Julie Kukral via 732-7062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.