TEDx speaker, writer, and activist, Angela Bowden is a descendent of the stolen Africans sold through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Angela’s roots were preserved through the Black Loyalists arriving in Birchtown, migrating to Guysborough County, and later moving to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she was born and raised.
In the introduction to UnSpoken Truth, you say that “[t]he pieces contained in this book are intended to identify and acknowledge the generational trauma and pain of Black people living in the African Diaspora and create an understanding of the trauma suffered.” As a poet and a journalist, there are several ways you could have approached this important project. What drew you to poetry in particular?
When I began writing UnSpoken Truth I originally set out to write a combination of short stories and poems but somewhere along the way it became clear to me how deeply the poetry was working in this project alone. I would create a piece and it didn’t matter the length or structure, it was doing some pretty powerful work in a way that seemed natural and moving. The poetry travelled like water, filling in some of the historical trauma crevices and seeping past the walls of opposition landing in a place that I refer to as innerstanding; the place where pain resonates and motivates us to do something. Poetry that is created deliberately and consciously moves energy much like music. Each poem became a lesson filled with lived experience and created an atmosphere that moved readers beyond the words and into the trauma. Capturing this topic via poetry provided a necessary break for the reader; there is an in and an out of this daunting material. When engaging with traumatic material like UnSpoken Truth that’s important. Each poem provides bite size pieces of these complex trauma stories without losing meaning or momentum. Poetry is personal. Each reader receives it and is able to have an intimate conversation with themselves privately over what each piece is conveying. There’s no room for argument in poetry. I chose poetry because it evokes emotions that are easier to penetrate past the mind and into the heart. That part, the innerstanding, I hope motivates individuals alone and in family and peer circles to examine our histories and change.
You also mention in the book that storytelling played an important role in your family while growing up in New Glasgow. How has that influenced your writing career?
Storytelling is a cultural and historical part of the African community’s identity; we preserve our stories, history and other events and pass them down orally intergenerationally. As a young girl I enjoyed the stories told in my family and community and now I have the maturity and wisdom to process and analyze them. I pass these stories on in the art of storytelling, spoken word, poetry and nonfiction works. I think it’s critically important that some of these stories be captured in the art and story form in an effort to document our historical and ongoing experiences and existence in the diaspora. I have learned the bulk of my education through this wisdom and storytelling and I never wanted our rich cultural histories and legacies to be forgotten. This has had a profound effect on my writing and is the reason I listen and carefully store these memory archives that later translate into poetry or spoken word. Our survival has been one of a tragedy inside a tragedy, so much substance and beauty intertwined in our histories, coping and pain.
What has your family’s response been to UnSpoken Truth?
Complete pride. From my mother to my sons, aunties, siblings, cousins and friends the feedback has been complete pride. Much like the elder response, UnSpoken Truth has opened another door and gives permission for us as individuals, families and communities to validate and engage in some of the deep conversations we were never permitted to acknowledge let alone speak about. Unspoken Truth validates these experiences and gives permission to acknowledge, speak, feel and heal; the experiences contained in the book resonate beyond my family.
When writing about topics that require a lot of emotional labour, do you follow any self-care rituals?
Oh absolutely! These topics require pre care and after care. It is critical to my own survival and thrival to invest in me first before I travel to those tough spaces and use deep energy. I spend a lot of time outside in nature or beside water, connecting, smudging and pouring libations to ground me in my purpose and provide me with support. After I write from and in these trauma spaces I face physical and emotional consequences, which lend a hand to more good writing.
I find my center again by going back outside and tuning in to me, with nature and my soul, reminding myself of who I am and giving myself permission to release and rest. Breathing, observing, grounding and being grateful and mindful of the little things keeps me in the present, this is so important. Spending time with my family and friends reminiscing and laughing, bubble baths, music and dancing is also part of my follow up care but connecting with children and the elderly offers a healing unparalleled. Basking in pure love, vulnerability, good energy and counting my blessings is the key to continuing this journey I am on.
In a recent CBC article, you spoke about how the title of this book reflects your efforts to unmute the voices and stories of your elders. You’ve also dedicated the collection in part to Black youth. Who are some young Black voices that excite you today?
Yes, it is important the youth understand their location in all of this as they lead us to change. There are so many public and behind the scene youth voices that excite me provincially, too many to name and I would not want to leave any voices out!
Personally, I’d have to say the voices of my sons Roger and Roemyn excite me the most, especially as a Black mother because we dialogue regularly about these complex topics. They have a profound understanding of the issues we are facing and use their gifts, experiences, trauma and healing to generate solutions. From researching, developing and sharing financial literacy and investment information and support to the psychological understandings and experiences of Black trauma and mental health they put in the work both academically and personally. As young Black men with complex lived experiences and perspectives, I am excited to see what contributions they will both continue to make in the development of and as Black men as well as in the literary and academia world. It’s exciting to envision where our youth and their critical thinking will lead them as they venture into their individual journeys, rejecting Black Toxic Masculinity and perhaps engaging in future joint projects.
When it comes to the voices of the youth in this province, let me assert that they are speaking up and out in many different ways in every crevice of rural and urban Nova Scotia. From articles, public speaking, activism, poetry, spoken word, music, art, peer conversations and modelling, personal growth and self investment, these youth are making a difference. They are the change and it is incumbent upon all of us to continue to be the steady shoulders they stand on.
How did your manuscript evolve from the earliest drafts in 2018 to your time in the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program in 2020 and its publication this year?
The evolution of UnSpoken Truth went from inspiration to perspiration. The beginning stages in 2018 were driven by inspiration but that was not going to be enough to complete the project. Writing requires discipline and that is what the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship program provided me with – discipline. Through the program I learned to sweat a little when I write, this was a new discipline for me, writing from perspiration. And as I began to settle into the ebb and flow of writer’s block and woes I learned valuable insight regarding the writing process; I learned that both chaos and the clarity inform the writing process so I let my guard down and accepted whatever thoughts, words or stories entered my space. As publication drew near I had evolved so much as a writer through the entire process that the manuscript that I thought was finished became a working and open document again that saw multiple edits and additions which eventually led to the finish line; the evolution and completion of UnSpoken Truth: Unmuted and Unfiltered.
Do you enjoy writing anywhere, or is there a particular space or set-up that works best for you?
I love writing anywhere and everywhere as each location creates its own writing atmosphere and encourages diverse angles and parallels. I can be writing in my room and not even be in my room writing as I am present in the story, not the location. I love writing outside in the sun and at evening time. I also enjoy writing while travelling because my mind is constantly analyzing, processing and filtering new content in new spaces. I can return to write in those spaces when I return back to my home as well because I was present in those stories ans spaces mindfully so I can recreate them in my mind and spirit when I write. Whether I am capturing experiences from Ghana, the Dominican, Jamaica or the US I can literally feel my way back into those places I experienced to write. For me, the message meets me where I am and transcends all moods.
I understand there’s now an UnSpoken Truth audio book in the works. How do the publishing and recording processes compare for this project?
Well everything has been delayed because of COVID, but I suspect the audio for UnSpoken Truth will be more impactful based on the feedback I receive after a reading or presentation. The project will be more emotional labour and more intensive self care as there is something about speaking the trauma out loud and hearing it that triggers deeper for everyone including the author. I am also excited to be offering an alternate format that is more accessible to our elders, visually impaired and persons struggling with literacy.
Speaking of recording, there’s a great video available on YouTube in which you perform two poems from your time in the WFNS mentorship program. As a seasoned spoken word artist and public speaker, do you have any advice for writers who might be nervous about sharing their own words in public?
Yes! Dear beautiful talented writers, poets and speakers YOU got this, you had it all along! Dig deep and then deeper. You are on this journey for a reason and the good news is you have all of the answers you seek tucked deep inside of you. Have fun with your gift. Unwrap it, play with it, and discover your power! Stand tall and proud in your gifts and talents and turn up your volume and you will naturally present and feel a righteous responsibility to share your gift with confidence and grace unapologetically once you remember who YOU are. Don’t question it. Accept that the gifts you’ve been given are for you to use; it is protected and abundant so hop to it.
—Questions by K.R. Byggdin