Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
A-lan Holt is a dramatist and mother. Themes of her written work include concepts of loneliness, love, and utopian desires. Her plays and performances have been presented around the U.S. and internationally in Kampala, Uganda (National Theatre of Uganda). A-lan recently published a book of poetry called Moonwork.
Where do you live?
Describe yourself in one word.
What did you do last night?
Last night, I celebrated a dear friend who is transitioning away from the Bay Area. She threw this wonderful day party that went well into the night. There I danced with my daughter who is three years old among a sea of deeply creative and expressive women. It was very special for me to be out and social with my daughter in this way. Spaces are not always so inclusive, but when they are, they are heaven.
What can’t you live without?
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Space. A black woman has already done it.
Who is your personal hero? Why?
The poet June Jordan. She ushered me into this universe of poetry at 14 years old. ‘A Poem About My Rights’ continues to be radical and honest, and for me, deeply moving. June Jordan was the first black woman I knew to discuss her sexuality fluidly -- she wrote about it with grace, the way she loved women and men and everyone. I appreciate her presence in my world from such a young age, it was freeing. When I think about my career, I think about June Jordan.
How did you find your creative voice?
I started writing consistently at age 10. During this period I was grieving the passing of my grandmother, Bernice G. Morehead, who raised me. The writing was a practice of futurity, renewed or continued existence. Of course, I didn’t call it that then. But I knew I had to do something with all of that grief. All of that sudden, inexplicable, transition. So I wrote. The writing cultivated more creation: theater, film, hand-bound books of poetry. It created for me a community of collaborators: designers, directors, actors, scholars, peers.
I find my voice by first writing through all of my life’s experiences. Then I work to alchemize those experiences into something nu: nu poems, nu plays, nu ways of being. If you ever see me write nu (rather than new), it’s an indicator of the alchemical nature of my creative process. This year I welcome two nu works; a film I wrote and directed, Inamorata, which is produced by a collective TrueMVMNT, and a collection of poetry entitled Moonwork published by Candor Arts.
What is something most people don't know about you?
I am such a romantic -- I want to feel and express everything.
What do you do when you feel uninspired?
I return to my rituals. I engage all the mundane yet magical things that contribute to me feeling alive and awake and well. For example: I wake up early, I take sea salt baths, I go on fresh juice fasts, I tuck small crystals into my bra, I move my body intentionally, I get warm. I try and do as many of these things as I can, and most often the creativity becomes unstuck.
What's been your biggest learning moment, and what did you take from that experience?
In 2012 I fell in love and by the next year I became a mother. Two years to the season after falling in love I was heartbroken and quiet and imagining what raising a daughter could look like on my own.
Intimacy with another human being transformed me very deeply and very quickly. It brought up all of my shadow places; all of that moon energy like abandonment, and loneliness, and tendencies for poor communication. It brought up all of my lover’s dark places as well. I learned many lessons, one of them was this: Being a healer does not mean you have the ability to heal others, rather, it means that you have the ability to heal yourself and through that practice of healing inspire and support others in doing similar work. I am a writer, but I am also a healer. I’ve learned that these last three years.
What’s your greatest achievement and how has it shaped you?
A few months ago while I was editing Moonwork, I found a poem of mine from 2006 -- 10 years ago -- and I read it aloud for the first time and the poem held up, it was good! That moment was special to me because it was proof of the seeds I’ve been planting for over a decade. My goals as an artist are informed by a desire for healing and futurity. I want a long, healthy, fertile life that is full of things created. I want to be writing poetry for a very long time. I want to be creating healthier worlds for a very long time. Finding that poem suggests I’ve been doing just that, and it’s been feeding me well.
Coffee or tea? What kind?
Both. I enjoy coffee, Philz and Le Columbe! At home I’m drinking teas from Rainbow Coop in SF. In the morning I drink the ‘Love’ tea blend which is so sensual and aromatic, and in the evening I drink ‘Witches Brew’ which has red raspberry leaf, nettle, and a handful of others.
What does a perfect day look like for you?
A perfect day would be in a natural space like the mountains or beach, surrounded by very creative and gentle people, surrounded by children, making art all day, swimming, napping, dancing and love making, fresh juices, pomegranates. Yes, something like that would be perfect!
Who are your local inspirations?
Author Jeff Chang, who I work alongside at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. He is the Executive Director there. He works very hard toward creating a more equitable and beautiful world. I am honored to be learning from his leadership daily.
Playwright Cherrie Moraga as well. June Jordan passed away before I could study with her, but the goddess put me in the path of Cherrie Moraga and she changed my world. Through her guidance and support I became a poet and playwright. There was no formal program at Stanford; she was the program. I am forever grateful to her for teaching me the tough artistic lessons. She is everything.
Pomegranates over plain yogurt.
What upcoming show are you excited about?
It’s not in the Bay Area, but this upcoming season playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is in residence at the Signature Theater in New York. The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Venus, The Red Letter Plays: In the Blood and F***ing A; all of these plays will go up throughout the year. I am very excited about it!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years you will find my creative work on stage, on screen, and in pages. In five years I will be well into transforming the arts and artist culture at Stanford University through my work at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts. Artists, especially student artists of color, will be thriving all around me as a result.
If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play, song or painting, what would it be?
Eryn Allen Kane’s song “Have Mercy.” It’s filled with so much gratitude. I want a life of grace, so I’d like to live in a song that celebrates a life of gratitude.
Where and when can people see you or your art in action?
I just got back from In House Chicago celebrating the artist book release of Moonwork, where I performed poems and led a writing workshop inspired by Audre Lorde's seminal essay, 'Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.' I also recently released the first teaser to my film, Inamorata. The teaser and more can be found at inamoratafilm.com.
Curious about who else made the list? Check out the Women to Watch series page, including photo galleries, interviews, and videos.
Do you know a Bay Area artist who is doing amazing things? We want to hear from you! Highlight her efforts using #BayBrilliant.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.