Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Gloria O'koye is a spoken word artist, author and community activist.
Now mind, she does not refer to herself as Queen of Jane & Finch. I do. There might be someone more deserving, but I have not met that person and so far, no one is more deserving of this title and Glowz. So that is why I titled this interview like so.
I met her about 8 years ago. I have watched as her story unraveled before me. I have seen the greatness she is growing into from her love of her neighborhood to the positivity she shares in her poetry.
When did that writing bug hit you?
I’ve been writing for about 18 years.
18 years! And how old are you now?
Wow! That’s a whole life of writing. What would you say was your inspiration when you got started?
I just love stories. I love reading. I find that my writing… It helps me process my life. So everything that happens in my life, up until now, when I write it down, I’m able to process it. And I’m able to learn more.
So it’s almost like therapy, right?
I find the same with my writing, but building stories around the outcome. You could write about a bad experience, but you change the outcome to what you wish would happen.
Nowadays, what gets you take a pen and put down words?
It’s my imagination now. Imagination games and in my dreams. I was not able to describe it. The best when I was younger, but as I got older, through life experiences and expanding my vocab, I can write the stories I always wanted to write since I was a child.
Now, so far, with Kinsugy and Hood Chronicles and you’re coming up with Glowz After Dark?
And also there’s a Kinsugy Reflection of Hood Chronicles Volume 1 and Volume 2.
So far, what has been the reception?
Way more than I expected. I really appreciate everyone who supported me. A lot of doors opened for me, because of each and everyone of you.
Then again, the talent speaks for itself. The way you put out words and express them. Do you have a favorite piece?
From Hood Chronicles?
From any of them.
(laughter) Which one I like the most?
You know what? You’re down with the Hip Hop community, right?
What is your all time favorite line you’ve ever written?
That’s even more hard (laughter). Actually, I do have one. It’s from my Kinsugy memoir. It’s a poem I dedicated to my grandmother. It’s call Tea. I start off with, I grieve in my mother’s tongue yet I heal in my mother’s tongue.
Bars! All right. You’re half Nigerian and half Chinese. Have you always grown up in Jane & Finch?
I have moved quite a lot. The J&F connection is on my father’s side and the Scarborough side is from my mother because most of the Chinese population is more in the Scarborough, Richmond Hill, Markham area. J&F always accepted me for who I am. Scarborough was a bit different. The Asian community accepted me way more. They accepted me because I’m very connect to my Chinese roots. However, the other side didn’t accept me until high school. I had about 3 friends with African / Caribbean backgrounds really accepted me. So scarborough is a different vibe. Jane & Finch was different. They just loved me and that’s why I will forever love this community.
With regards to the climate that we’re currently living in, I find that a lot of people find importance in their sense of belonging. I never took in the plight of someone who has a mixed heritage such as yourself. How is that for you, being both Asian and Black?
It was definitely challenging because like I mentioned before, I was always closer to my mother side. But I knew that I was different from them. The kids at school were not that nice, but it was mainly the Asian side that accepted me. I guess the sense of belonging… I pretty much gravitated towards the communities that accepted me. I tried to brush things under the rug, but I was always going to be there no matter. So when I got to connect with my Nigerian side, I poured my whole entire heart into it. I went to Igbo school by Islington and Elmhurst. I went to all Igbo service in Church on Kipling and Dixon. I made I learned how to cook some of the food. I went to a Nigerian and listened to Nigerian music, but they only saw me as Chinese.
They still saw you as Chinese?
Yeah or they always brought it up. Because I’m better at reading and writing in Igbo, while speaking was taking me a while. I could pick up the words in Church. A funny story, while I was in Igbo class, I picked up the alphabet and the sounds so well, that I started to speak Igbo in French class (laughter). I would find that in the past 2-3 years, folks would identify me as Nigerian.
I totally get it. People have come up to me and asked me if I wanted to create in French. Do you find yourself wanting to do so in Ebo or Cantonese?
Yeah, I’ve written in both languages in my book, Kinsugy Memoir. The poem for my grandma called Tian, the conversation I had with her was in Cantonese. The poem for my father, I wrote 1st Corinthians Chapter 13 verse 4-8 in fully Igbo. The best way I could express my love was through his mother and father’s tongue.
Now, one thing I’m curious about, is that you’re a full blown Christian, right?
Depends on who I’m talking to.
You’re talking to the Heathen here (laughter).
So you’ll probably see me as a saint (laughter). For me, I find that I’m in the middle. The sinners might think I’m a good person while the goody 2 shoes will think I’m a wicked person.
Do you find any issues with your writing when you’re inspired to write something super sexy? There’s no internal battle?
No when it comes to that. I know that for Glowz After Dark, there won’t be no God dedication for it (laughter). I usually make sure God’s first, but that one (laughter).
You’re funny! You’ve spoken about your love of the community on Jane & Finch because they embraced you. Besides that, what makes you go hard for Jane & Finch?
I would say that Jane & Finch is where I found my identity. The elders took me in. And it’s also where I have my best memories of my father. And even when it came down to my art, the way the community helped me, they’ve always gone hard for me. So I’m pretty much giving back for the love that was given to me.
What would you say is your dream for Jane & Finch?
There was a point and time when there was unity when I was growing up. There’s a lot of tension now, but it was not there when I was a kid. There was peace and I want that. Even the corporations, I want them to give the people the credit that they deserve. I feel like everyone looking from the outside are not giving the people enough credit. The media likes to portray the negative and I can tell that they’ve not touch down in the area. If you saw the people living there, you would see something different than what the media portrays. They don’t talk about the back to school festivals. They’re not talking about the people donating to the families during Covid. I wish also that the organic food was not so expensive.
I totally agree with you. Reminds me of you wearing those shirts that said, Humanize The Hood and I guess that’s the goal for J&F, to humanize it, right?
Yeah! And shoutout to RH Hayden. She started the movement to Humanize the Hood. I had to support her. And shoutout to Lawrence Height, Jungle. As soon as I saw the shirt, I had to cop it. Too many times our neighborhoods are silenced. And it’s not fair. People are telling stories and no one is listening. So we need to reclaim that. Especially with the gentrifications taking place. Claiming renovation of buildings, but if you’re trying to knock out buildings, rebuild them and then pushing out people and creating basketball courts for outsiders is not cool.
They’ve done that to Harlem in New York.
Yeah and Regent too. They did it to Lawrence Height. If you see what they did to the people there. They tried it with Jane & Finch, trying to change it to University Heights or some…
York is close-by, right?
Yeah York University! They’re targeting other neighborhoods, so we have to keep fighting.
So far, you’ve published books and gained support world wide…
I don’t know about that.
You don’t know? You know about your support.
Yes, I do.
So it is around the world.
No, I wouldn’t say around the world.
You’re gaining support from all continents around the world, correct?
So at this point and time, it’s world wide then.
No, it’s not every single country.
Oh, so you want that Michael Jackson connection.
So what’s next then?
I’ll be pushing out books and then maybe take a hiatus to work on my sci-fi book.
I know exactly what you mean. I’m filming some movies now and when I’m done the last one, I’m done for 2020. Let’s change pace here. You’re a single mother of 3. With regards to your art and the children, how has it been balancing it all?
I don’t recommend it, but the way that I do it, I wait until they sleep. Especially with Covid now, the kids would usually be in school, but now I have to wait for them to sleep. I do have a lot of support. If you got people you trust, don’t be shy to ask them, especially if it’s someone who believes in your art.
Can you see your children following in your footsteps?
They’re already are. One of them is helping me with my book right now. They’re more visual artists. A lot of them are dancing acting. My oldest, she definitely loves to write.
Does she remind you of you in her writing?
All of them do. They remind me of me. Their imagination shows me they’re in a good path.
What if one of your kids said I’m going to continue my mother’s legacy… What would you be your advice for your child or children?
Have a lot of discernment, recognize who’s there for you and who’s not there for you. Who’s providing constructive criticism. Especially when you’re an author, do not rush it. This is such a fast pace world, things could take 10 years, but just keep going. Write as if you’re making a blueprint and even if you don’t get to see the final product, someone else can continue for you. Make sure you capture as much of your voice in every project you have.
How has your lifestyle and children impacted your love life? Do you make time for dating?
Barely. I don’t try to focus too much on that. I have had bad experiences where I was in relationships. When you’re in entertainment, no matter what you’re doing, you’re still going to get attention and people will want to get to know you. It has caused problems. You have to have a confident and trusting partner. You can’t have someone who’s insecure. I feel like I could have gone further with my art if I had not been in those relationships. I heard people say to get with another creative to reduce the tension.
In your experience, has that been a good advice?
I’ve seen creatives who’ve made things work. And I’ve seen some who have had more of a competition than a relationship. When it comes to that, there’s always going to be a risk. But I think it can be a good advice. Some of the things we experience are somewhat troublesome to a non creative while a creative will understand.
What would be the ideal individual for you then?
I think to be honest with you, if I get past my fears, I would want to be with another creative. It would feel better to create together and we complement each other.
I’m guessing, as creatives, you would live here in Jane & Finch.
Yeah, because of advocacy and similar passion.
If you could not create. If creating was not your thing, what you be doing?
I’d be farming. I grew in that nature environment. I grew up gardening.