Poetry and Hood Womanism: a dialogue with Chicago’s first Youth Poet Laureate, E’mon Lauren

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Speaking with E’mon Lauren (@laurenlikepolo), it’s easy to mistake her for a writer well beyond her 24 years. Chicago’s first Youth Poet laureate, Lauren has published her first chapbook, COMMANDO way back in 2017 — a work alive with the maturity, wisdom and confidence of someone who’s chartered many lives.

E’mon was kind enough to sit down with us to speak about honing her craft as a poet, hood womanism and her podcast, The Real Hoodwives of Chicago, now in its third season.

ACE HOTEL CHICAGO: How do you introduce yourself?

E’MON LAUREN: I’m E’mon Lauren, LaurenLikePolo. I’m the first Youth Poet Laureate of Chicago. I’m an artist, educator and womanist. My poetry and work reflect the intersectionality of hood womanism and sex and wellness. I’m the host and producer/creator of a podcast called The Real Hoodwives of Chicago.

AHC: Tell us about being a womanist, and how that impacts your interest in sex/wellness/intersectionality.

EL: As a black queer femme woman, my life is full of intersection. I live in the body of a politic, and I understand that while everything I say or do might not be political, it will be interpreted as such. I don’t believe you can be a feminist if you don’t have intersections in your life.

Womanism has shifted what contemporary feminism meant to me — it includes women of color, queer women, women on the gender spectrum and highlights the black femme plight.

AHC: When did you start writing poetry?

EL: As a DCFS [Department of Child & Family Services] kid, I was moved around a lot. Growing up on the west side of Chicago, my mom really cultivated my love of black cinema and black art — I watched A Different World, Spike Lee and the musical Wicked all the time. I wanted to be an entertainer. My mom was showing me black artists succeeding at the same time that my education system was telling me I couldn’t. From elementary school through high school I fought against this by honing my artistic interests — acting, dancing, singing, drawing, writing.

Chicago Public School was tough for me — Curie, the performing arts high school I went to, was overcrowded. I didn’t really get the attention I needed to explore my talents as an artist and/or learn about how I could turn those interests into a career. I had to pave that path for myself. 

On the second day of my freshman year, I was pulled into a classroom where they were showing the Louder Than a Bomb documentary. My former teammate CeCe took me to a Young Chicago Authors (YCA) Wordplay class that same day. I saw black people writing and reading poems, curating open mics — it was an epiphany for me. I’ve been writing poetry for over a decade now.

AHC: Tell us about being named Chicago’s first Youth Laureate — what did that mean to you?

EL: It’s a blessing to be recognized — especially living in a world that tends to overwrite women of color. And I was recognized for my talent and persistence. Since being named, I’ve come to understand the award more for its lineage and what that symbolizes. It has created a path for other Chicago poets to find the same success — the title isn’t what lasts, so much as the passion and dedication that’s transferred to the young people who come after me — showing them it’s possible to find success in this space.

The title isn’t what lasts, so much as the passion and dedication that’s transferred to the young people who come after me — showing them it is possible to find success in this space.

E’mon Lauren by Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney

AHC: What is “hood womanism” and how does it tie into your poetry?

EL: I think a poem that explains my relationship with hood womanism is one I wrote called “A-Window-Shopping-Ass-Ni**a”. That poem talks about an abusive relationship, men using women’s bodies as commodities, the black femme plight.

For a black woman from the hood, struggle and intersectionality looks totally different from that of a black femme who might have been raised with more privilege. I was raised in a single parent household with a mother struggling with alcoholism. I had unstable housing and had to go through sex work at a young age just to get through high school. THAT is hood womanism to me. 

Black people are not a monolith and it’s so important for me to express that; especially my own experience — in my art. If you say you’re someone who values and respects women, then you can’t diminish anything about them because you don’t know what they went through to get where they are. We all deserve to dress how we want to dress, say what we want to say, post what we want to post without fear or expectation of harassment. Black women, especially black women from the hood, are faced with different challenges in daily life and this is what I want to come across in my work. How can I use my black privilege to meet other people where they are?

AHC: Is poetry therapeutic for you?

EL: I believe I heard Krista Franklin say once, “art is therapeutic, not therapy.” Sometimes people tell me my poems are so angry and I say “no, they’re just passionate.” Yes, I’m mad at men — sometimes they just need to shut the hell up and LISTEN. But my poems aren’t meant to be retaliatory or vengeful; that doesn’t benefit me. Instead, my poetry works as a reflection of my experience and the experience that other black women might find relatable. 

In another sense, sometimes I feel like my poetry helps me with forgiveness, especially towards my parents. Our parents weren’t raised with the tools of self-expression that we have today, and that is something I’m learning to accept.

ACH: How has your creative writing process changed (or not changed) during COVID? Have your sources of inspiration changed at all?

EL: Before the pandemic I often thought about becoming a content creator; the pandemic forced me to act on that goal. As far as my writing, I’ve been writing a lot of poetic memoirs and scripts. I’m inspired by black media and black cinema.

I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about “pretty privilege” and what that means to/for black people. I have the privilege of being an artistically and socially educated person — what would it look like for me to bring that understanding to my sisters two blocks away? Or a grandfather who doesn’t really know how to talk to his granddaughters? I think I can be a liaison for conversations through my writing.

AHC: What was it like for you to see Amanda Gorman reading poetry at the presidential inauguration?

EL: To see a beautiful, black woman reading poetry at an inauguration, that is ICONIC, and that should be recognized as such. That said, it’s important to note that not all black poetry looks or sounds like that. I want there to be space for all kinds of black poets — and I hope one day that I could read one of my poems about hood feminism on the inauguration stage.

AHC: You started a podcast called The Real Hoodwives of Chicago – tell us the inspiration behind this amazing title and what the podcast is about? What is a hoodwife?

EL: I started the podcast two years ago because I was uninspired by representations of black femme of love and romance. It’s so skewed in the media, and the only access we have to it is reality TV and a scarce collection of shows, typically created by white production teams. I wanted black people and black women to have a space to talk about love, sex and ratchetry without a white lens — no filter. It’s necessary for black people, especially black women, to have access to safe and thorough conversations about health and wellness.

Hoodwives are the matriarchs of home, house and neighborhood. They are a foundation point, a backbone of their communities. The black woman cares for children that aren’t her own, cooks for men that she isn’t married to and keeps young black men out of trouble — all while maintaining their body through survival, in a world who doesn’t give a f*ck about their/our safety. 

I have so many of these figures in my life — women who work not to change people but to help them find their own paths. When you think about a marginalized community like the hood, you think of a hyper-masculine man first and foremost; but think about it: who are these men you’re thinking of coming home to? Who’s cooking them dinner, diapering their babies, giving them love support? Let’s talk about it.

AHC: What are some of the most memorable conversations you’ve hosted on your podcast to date?

EL: Season 3 recently debuted on Twitch with musician and friend Qari.

Dominique James and Kush Thompson discussing interracial realtionships.

Femdot. & Matt Muse talking about the relationship between music and the media.

AHC: Who would your dream podcast guest be?

EL: If I could have any one on a podcast, I would have my departed Aunt Pocahontas — aka Auntie Pokie. If we’re talking about someone alive today, it would be Issa Rae. She’s a multi-hyphenate artist, unafraid to disrupt the status quo, and she’s proven that the finesse brand can get you to success. She’s just amazing. I’d love to talk to her about her experience as a black woman and black entertainer.

Emon’s podcast goes live every other Thursday at  7pm on Twitch and on Chicago4Real’s Twitch. Audio episodes are available on Anchor. Follow E’mon on Instagram at @LAURENLIKEPOLO. Youtube channel coming soon.

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