That is how I have seen Amoya Rée as I followed her career. From her spoken word performances on stage to the few chances I had to speak with her.
Now, talking about speaking to her, the ease of this interview shocked me because of the way she answered my questions. Even the photoshoot moved like a breeze.
Amoya Rée is one of the greatest performers I have seen. In this interview, she provides a look into her that not many get a chance to see. And it is worth the read.
So I present... Amoya Rée!
When did you get started with spoken word?
Um, it happened in high school. I was a drama kid. So I was taking theater classes and like auditioning and going on auditions. But the scrutiny of the physical appearance in that field was a bit too much for me. So I really wanted out. And then it just so happened that my school had arranged for this tour of poets festival. And a group of amazingly talented spoken word artists, including Jemini, came to perform for school, like they had a poetry slam. And I saw her on stage and I was like, Damn, that's what I want to do. And it took off from there. I actually got to perform for her that same week. They were there for like, a couple of days. And I just haven't stopped since. Yeah, it was an amazing moment, especially years later, when I got to headline When Sisters Speak with her. Yeah. And we shared a dressing room. And I got to tell her and she was like, Are you serious? Yes. So this was a big moment. That was what the highlight of my career. I don't think anything else really top that.
So the next question was going to be who you see as your favorite spoken word?
There you go! I love Jemini. But there's a lot of artists that I love. Crystal Valentine, who's based out of the states. She’s another one who I absolutely love. Elizabeth Acevedo… There's so many great poets that I am just obsessed with. Even locally too. Debbie Young, you know, like, Lillian Allen. Those are the people who I look at like, wow, you're just radiant. And that's the first word that I think of.
And you know what, that's kind of funny, because I kind of see your style similar to that radiance. But with regards to your favorites, if you were to choose one of them, how does that person's style differ from yours?
I would say. So if I'm going to choose, for example, Crystal Valentine, I would say there's a softness that I have, that I like to bring into my performances, whereas their work is, although there's tenderness and it can be there, they exist and perform in a different space. And it's a lot more assertive, in some respects. Both powerful, just different, right? So I think that's the one thing and maybe that's, you know, because I'm a mother, that's where that comes from, but I like to also bring that softness to my performances.
What did you want to do for a profession? Was it theater all the time?
No, I've always wanted to write. So I'm still a writer. Like, that's still where I want to be like, I remember finding books years later. I had little storybooks, where I would write my own story on top of it, and like, cross out the word. So that's something that's always been a part of me forever. And I think being creative and being creative with my words, was always there, it just… I didn't know how to place it. And growing up, you know, it was go be a doctor or be a teacher, that was the one that was really pushed on me to be a teacher. But that was not in my stars. It wasn't for me. And I think where I'm headed now is where I'm supposed to be. It's just taking me a bit longer to get there, because I've been denying it for so long. But part of that is, you know, culturally how we grew up, and you have certain expectations from your family, and just how you were raised. But being able to honor that and on yourself is something that we all are learning from trying to process through.
See, now that's kind of funny again, because my next question was going to be, were your parents supportive? So… (laughter)
(laughter) So there was no lack of support. So to say. It was just the expectation was, you know, go to post secondary, get your degree, get a good job, which have of no fault of her own. That was sort of the dream that was laid out for us, you know, as children of immigrants, like I came here when I was two, there's this expectation that you have to have a better life. And that's the way you get it. Right. And that's not to say that that's wrong. It's just I've learned that it's not the only way. Right. So the support just came from me realizing that as much as you know, she's there and provides and gives a roof over our heads, I still have to make my own way. And I still have to make my own decisions and do what's best for me.
Yeah. And I kind of like the whole idea of support because you’re married…
Now, with children, I find that you know, if anything I find that it is a natural source of inspiration for artists, but to find a right mate, it's like looking for a complimenting peace for your life. How has your husband been complimenting in your life from the time you guys met, up until now?
Um, he's always been super supportive. It's been difficult. And I'm gonna be honest, and say that, it's not easy being with someone who… It's not easy being with someone like me (laughter). I'll say that, especially when I'm so determined, and so headstrong. So when I want something, I want it, and it's happening. And oftentimes, I don't consider that other people have opinions on things that I want. And that's always just been my rebellious nature, like that's going back to, you know, my mom, you know, like being raised by a single mother and not respecting her instilling that strength into me, I always just see myself as, okay, this is what I want, I'll go get it without thinking, you know, maybe I could get help in this respect or another. But in terms of like, supporting my artistic career, he's always been 100% on my side. And, you know, that means taking the kids so I could rehearse when it's time for slam team or anything like that, you know… Recording my videos, taking my pictures, editing my audio, because he's an audio engineer, you know. And just making space for me in that respect has been, you know, a blessing because a lot of people do not have that and do not have that support system. So don't take for granted at all, but it is compromised, like any relationship. It is you have to at some point, realize that it's a partnership and a team. Yeah. So there are things that I don't do, so that he can do them, and vice versa right.
Now, you seem to always be answering my questions before I ask them. (laughter)
(laughter) I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
So the next question was, what are the struggles and blessings you've experienced as your family started growing and building?
Definitely having my family, I mean, throughout the pandemic, especially the amount of people I know who have just been home isolating alone. And I can't even imagine that, like I… there's no… I haven't been alone a day since… (laughter).
So I mean, take that as you will, but it is a blessing. Nobody wants to be by themselves every day. And without that human interaction, you know. And being able to see myself outside of myself, like that has been interesting, because so much of my personality is in my children. And they literally emulate everything you do, like I just learned what anger transference was the other day, and just through reading, and I saw it play out in front of my eyes. I got mad at my son. And then two seconds later, he was getting mad at his brother over something so stupid. And I'm like, wow, like, that's really how that works. Like, it's not just some white person sitting in an office creating this psychobabble like it's actually real. And oftentimes I have to check myself because they are formulating my character. And if I'm not at my best, I can't expect them to grow up to be the best men in the world. I can't, it's not going to happen. Right? So learning myself through them. It's been probably the biggest lesson.
I want to ask about you outside of the spoken word but also you outside of the mother and wife. What is something that you enjoy doing that brings you joy?
Reading. I love to read. So my side hustle. I call it my side also now because too many artists talk about their day job as their job. And their artistry is just their side hustle. And I'm trying to flip that script. So this is my job. And my side hustle is what I do nine to five. So at my side hustle, I actually work in a public library. And I went to school for it. And I enjoy literature and books, and I love reading to children and doing storytime. I enjoy that. But I enjoy reading and that's always been something that's just been a part of me. Even the other day my husband was saying to me remember the days when you would just sit and read a whole book and like two days? I was like, Yeah, I can't remember the last time I've done that. But that is something that I really enjoyed doing. And all sorts of things. I don't just read like… I don't read romance. Like I read fantasy. Like right now. I'm reading this book about this. It's called Black Leopard Red wolf. Yeah, it's a fantasy novel. All Black characters. I like I read all sorts of things, fiction, nonfiction.
What do you like?
If I can describe what I like by author, Dickey is, who I've enjoyed reading.
Have you read all of his books?
Not all of them. I'm on my way to though. I've read all the Gideon series. I enjoy Emma Donoghue. Room was a great, great book. I'm trying to think you know what? This guy that wrote monsters in LA. I forget his name.
Oh, I don't remember his name either. Yeah, I know who you're talking about. What can I recommend right now that I really like… See, the problem is I read such a variety that things that come to my head... I read a lot of YA. And that's because at my side hustle, I do a lot of work with teenagers, so I like to read things that they like. So right now, off the top of my head a good one… Punching The Air. That might be one. That's an easy one. You could get through it quickly, but it's a good one. Punching The Air. About a black boy just going through it.
That reminds me of Slam by Walter Dean Myers.
So going back to the spoken word, I see that you're still killing it. You know, winning awards and all that.
Yeah I try (laughter).
A little humble brag. That’s cool (laughter). What keeps you inspired?
Life. Every time I do a workshop, I'm always asked, what inspires me to write and my answer doesn't change… My life. I live life. And I take every experience for what it is. And everything is significant… Everything. And if you can find the significance in these little things that happen, even if they just seem like the most mundane things, then that's where your imagination comes into play. That's creativity. You know, I always use my Dollar Store poem. It's like one of my most requested poems, as an example, because I literally like that was an experience. And I made a poem about it and people ask me did really happened like yes, girl. I don't write about things that don't happen. I was in a Dollar Store and a man was following me around the aisles, like it actually happened. And you know, something as simple as that experience turned into a piece about consent and colorism and, you know, everyone's like, Well, how do you make that leap? I use my imagination. And I take the parts of my life and experiences and I say, how can I explain this to the world so that the most people can understand? Right? My whole thing is about accessibility. And when I say that I don't mean disability justice. I mean, intellectual justice, I mean, how do people who speak in ebonics or, you know, like, how do my people understand me? I'm not going to use Shakespearean language, to talk about my experiences, you know. To me, that’s elitism, and that doesn't work for my community. So being accessible with my experiences, because I know I've had that experience. And I also know about five other women who have. So how can I tell that story and make the world understand why this is wrong while still being true to who I am? So it's finding the joy and sorrow in all your experiences and making them all count. It’s a long answer. Sorry. (laughter)
No! That is a great answer. That’s a great answer. So what is a favorite line you've ever written?
Oh my gosh, it's actually tattooed on me. Yeah. It's to love me must mean that you believe in magic.
Bars! That's a strong word. That's, that's a dope line.
It's actually going to be part of… I partnered with Chronic Ink. So we're releasing a line of tattoos around supporting black voices. And I wrote like a series and that was one of them so people can actually get them.
I was actually looking at more tattoos. Chronic Ink eh? I'm getting a lot from this interview.
(laughter) Yeah, so the big launch will be happening soon. You know. COVID kind of slowed things down because we wanted to have like a big shebang and have people come out. The tattoo industry faces its own discrimination. There's not a lot of black tattoo artists and there's not a lot of people tackling black skin who know how to tattoo our skin. It was a great partnership to kind of bridge that gap. So the hope is that we open up all the spaces for black skin to get these tattoos first at a different rate. And then white folks who want to support black artists can come in and pay the full price. (laughter)
(laughter) I wouldn't have it any other way.
So soon. Hopefully by summer, this is all done then we can have the full launch.
This is dope. Yeah, I was about to actually speak on what you have coming up. Yeah, thanks. So this is definitely that's a great thing. I mean, sure. Chronic Ink. I never heard of collaborations with…
Never been done yet.
No, definitely not.
Anything that's different new… When I say that I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. Like I'm not trying to. My goal is not to be the first to do anything. I just want to do what I want to do. Like, I don't care if someone else has already done it. I'm just gonna do it how I want to do it.
Let's go into a little bit of fantasy here. So if you were to create your own team for a poetry slam, who among the artists you know, would you put on your team?
Oh, that's a good question. I've never been asked that before. That's a dope question. Yeah. Oh, that's a good question. Okay. Who would I want on my team? Honestly, the 2018 Toronto poetry slam team was a very, very, very good team. I would do that again. Yeah, I would do that again with those exact same people. We had a strong team with the exception. I would add a black male voice because that was what was missing from our team. So if I had to pick a black male poet… Oh, it's gonna hurt some feelings. Okay. I want to say… Okay. Eddie Lardy from Hamilton is one of my favorites. But what I would have to do… Cause he’s a Scarborough boy and I'm a Scarborough girl. Joshua Skys. I'm not gonna lie. So it would be the same femmes that were on it. So that's Gabby, Cassandra Myers, Jennifer Alicia and myself. And we had Gavin Russell. And then as our sixth would be Joshua Skies. That would be my team.
Can you see a bit of of your talent… How old are your kids?
Oh, um, my youngest is two. Yeah. And the oldest is eight, eight. Yeah.
So just looking at them, can you see a bit of your talent that's transferred into them?
Or for sure. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. My oldest does everything that I used to do as a kid. So that's standing in front of the mirror with like a hairbrush pretending that he's performing. Like he's over the top. So like, he’ll dress up like he'll put on a full piece. And his dad was a dancer. So he has that in his blood. I can't dance for shit. So he has a combination of both. So with the right guidance. He can be Chris Brown. He has it. He has it. And then the youngest now. I don't know. He's so smart. And I think that's where it comes from. Like he He loves to read. He loves to count. He's just so intelligent. So I could just see that in him because I was I was a very studious person growing up. And like, I could just see that in him. So yeah, definitely rubbed off. Genetics Don't lie.
Where do you see your career going for yourself?
Um, honestly, I'm not gonna say don't know, because that's not a very positive affirmation. But there's so much that I want to do. I see myself becoming a media mogul. Like I love hosting, I love, you know, doing what you're doing right now like interviewing people. And I love creating, and I love being the brains behind the operation. So I definitely see that for myself. But I also love giving back in terms of my creative experience, leading workshops, and teaching folks how to do what I've been doing. So the possibilities are endless. I'm going to say that possibilities are endless.
What would be your advice for someone who's coming up? Who probably has gone through what you've gone through?
Coming up, as a poet, or just as an artist in general?
Would the answer differ?
So let's do both.
Okay, well, if you're a poet, and you're trying to solidify yourself as a poet, don't be afraid of competition. Don't be afraid of slam. A lot of poets who are amazing writers and have created careers for themselves, without slam have done so. And it's taken them a lot longer. You don't need to suffer because of that. Do a couple competitions, and network. That's literally what the slam circuit is. It's an opportunity to network and get your work out there. Meet other poets, learn, grow. You have to do it. You can do it without but if you're not competing and in the slam circuit, attend other workshops put on by other poets. Listen to what the work is like out there. See how your voice is different. Where you can improve, you have to keep working on your skill. In terms of all artists who are coming up, stay true to yourself. The last thing you want to do is following someone else's footsteps, and not know the size of your own shoe. Like you need to be sure of yourself. Not to say you're not going to make mistakes. Because mistakes will happen. But you'll… The landing from the fall will be a lot easier when you're wearing your size. Don't pick up what you can't manage.