Meet a Judge: Nakia HillJuly 28, 2020
Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest judges are artists, writers, environmental scientists, historians, marine educators, poets, filmmakers, composers, science communicators, and classroom teachers. Meet Prose Judge Nakia Hill through this conversation with our Intern and young poet Akhila Bandlora.
What’s your name and what do you do?
My name is Nakia Hill, and I’m a writer, author, journalist, and educator. I oversee 826 Boston’s Writers’ Room program.
So cool. So what exactly is a Writers’ Room?
A Writers’ Room is modeled after a university writing center where students can drop in to get one-on-one individualized support from writing tutors. Teachers can bring their full classes to get support with any writing assignments. They bring them into our Writers’ Room spaces, which also serves as a creative writing hub where students can come and publish books. Students can be involved in the production of the book as well. So, if a student of a teacher has an inspiring lesson that they want to publish in a professionally-bound book, we have binding machines in the Writers’ Room. Most of our team members are there to foster a community of writers and support teachers in public schools.
That’s so cool. I’m perpetually jealous of Boston’s writing scene.
I’ll say that it’s gotten better over the years, and especially over the years, it’s become more inclusive. A few years ago, I was a City of Boston Artist in Residence. I went to school for journalism, but I always wrote poetry. That was something that I did in a silo. I never identified as an artist. I was like, I’m a writer. During my residency, I found my identity in the art space because in my cohort, we had visual artists, we had authors, we had dancers, we had musicians. And that was a really transformative moment for me. And it also was great because I got paid to be an artist. I got funded to publish my two books: a book of poetry and a book project where I was able to collaborate with girls and women ages 10 to 80 years old, and we published an intergenerational anthology. So that was amazing, because now their book is available in Boston Public Libraries and community members can pick up this book that has stories written by young Black girls and seasoned women with wealth of knowledge about life.
I love the idea of a collaborative women-powered book project, so thank you for doing that work.
It’s my life’s work. I love it. I love to give women and girls of color the space to tell their story in their own authentic voices. I want to do more of that. I feel like that’s like my purpose. It’s important that we tell our stories in our voice the way that we want to.
What has been bringing you joy, creatively or otherwise?
Solitude has been bringing me joy, because solitude brings peace. My students bring me joy because they’re everything. They’re so clear on who they are. They have heart; they’re not limited.
What work have you done that you’re most proud of?
I’d say probably publishing both of my books. My first book was something I did for me. I published that book because it was healing for me. It was my truth in the most perfect and raw form, and that was something that I always wanted to do. And I did it, and I did it on my own in partnership with other women of color. I got to pay, put money back into the hands of, women of color, and publish the stories of black girls and women when I published my intergenerational anthology I Still Did It. And that was my biggest joy to see their stories celebrated.
Listening to that brought me a lot of joy, so thank you for sharing.
Why do you think imagination is important during crises?
Imagination is important in life because it is freedom. However you’re able to communicate that, whether it’s you exploring your imagination with a paintbrush on a blank canvas, a blank page, through using your body, through theater. You don’t need to know how to read. You can be illiterate, but in your mind, be so literate and be able to explore something outside of yourself. Imagination is limitless. That’s the one thing that’s always free, and is tangible to everyone.
How would you loved ones describe you in three words?
Black, kind, and giving.
What, in your opinion, is the role of art in a movement?
I think it’s important for artists, like I always think of the Nina Simone quote: “Artists, we reflect the times.” And we reflect it in our work: on the stage, on the page, wherever. We shed light on things that are beautiful about our world and the things that are really ugly and unjust, like what’s going on right now. And, you know, I’ve been really thinking about what it means for artists now to paint Black Lives Matter on the pavement in front of Trump Tower. There are people who are like, that’s not enough. But for the artists, that’s the way that they are using their gifts to message what’s going on with power. That statement is bringing awareness. That statement can impact policy and dismantle systemic racism.
I love what you said about how art is a reflection of all things beautiful, but it’s also critical. Those things must exist, side by side, because if you don’t criticize the world, how do you envision a better one?
What’s your favorite local community organization that deserves more attention and money than it gets?
URBANO Project. They do a lot of community artwork. They hire professional artists and young artists, with a focus of artists of color, to be teaching artists. They work on community issues and they shed light on it through their art. From what I’ve witnessed, youth can show up as themselves. They don’t have to be perfect. And that is an organization that I personally will always support because they get it and they don’t have a savior complex. They know these are artists, and they need to be paid. So yeah, Urbano Project. I love them.
They sound really cool. Last question, what is a piece of writing you think everyone should read at least once in their lifetime?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is bell hooks’ new book called All About Love. I’ve been reading it over and over again, not in its entirety, but whenever I feel mushy inside, it really speaks to romantic love as well as love for self, love for your family, love for the earth. I think that’s a really beautiful book. Also, with the reckoning that’s going on in our country, I am revisiting a book from my Africana Studies class by Mario Azevedo. That book is really great because it talks about Black people from when we were in Africa into the Americas. That’s really great. It covers everything. It’s my Encyclopedia of some sorts when I think about Blackness. Lastly, I think all young women of color right now should read More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth, the first Black editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. She talks about her experience in the workplace, and I feel like this would resonate with teenage girls and older women.