This monthly artist spotlight series was created to highlight artists in the community who have been impacted by racial, gender, and socio-economic inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WILLIE LEE KINARD III (he/they) is a poet, brand designer, art director & sound artist forged in Newberry, South Carolina. Holding An M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, they were a finalist for the 2020 Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship & received a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from the University of South Carolina. His musings include surrealist portraiture, gospel deep cuts, Black folklore & superstition. With work appearing or forthcoming in POETRY, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Rumpus, &elsewhere, they have received fellowships & support from The Watering Hole & the Pittsburgh foundation. He is an avid believer in evening thunderstorms & loose leaf tea. Go see 'bout them atwww.williekinard.com.
Social Media Handles:
Twitter, IG & Dribbble: @WillieKinardIII
I left a lot of mics with no applause & many confused or disgusted faces staring back at me...
How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted you?
COVID-19 has weirdly been a sort of “chaotic good” for me. Much like the rest of the world, I kind of panicked a bit in the early months, trying to get used to this new “normal” & find ways to still create healthily for me. I transformed my bedroom into a bit of a cozy, communing corner that allowed me to work & write & meditate & pray & not feel bad if nothing happened. I know the Pandemic has affected each of us differently, but I met a lot of my demons, my insecurities & my fears over the last year & some change & started working through a lot of them. It wasn’t easy, by any means, but the time away from the usual rhythms of life as we knew it helped me become more discerning, more compassionate & definitely, a better artist. I wrote & edited the majority of my work-in-progress, a full-length collection of poems, in this time.
What social barriers have you had to face as an artist in this community?
As a Black queer literary artist, it was hard to find gigs where I could comfortable early on. I worked a few local circuits—lounges, open mics, local slams, college performances, etc. It took a lot of focus & trial & error to shed my old personas as a choir kid & map out a career in words when certain places are still very conservative & traditional. Folks hear “poetry” & they think Hughes, Angelou, Giovanni, & as much as I am in & of the lineage of them, carving my own lane as a contemporary poet in my own right—especially one that is Black, queer & country talking about growing up poor & experiencing violence in the church; embracing the erotic alongside older traditions & whatnot—it took a while to gain respect from an audience. I left a lot of mics with no applause & many confused or disgusted faces staring back at me. But, I challenged myself to see how far I could go, how slick I could be & still be true to myself while not rejecting the places & experiences that had brought me there & gotten me in front of anyone’s mic or page.
What is your biggest need that would be most helpful to you right now?
I’d say more opportunities to be able to share work. I’m focused on my poetry pretty heavily right now & honestly, I’d just like more chances to read & share work with open-minded folk that don’t mind hearing a few weird stories about the country, or some fireflies or maybe a monster or two. & I wouldn’t be mad if my book got picked up soon.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Spirituality & ancestral connectedness. I meditate a lot now on my ancestry & have been working to craft bodies of work that reflect the ties between the sacred & the taboo in Southern rural Black American life. I’m really hype when I find a hymn that helps me paint a picture of a happening of my childhood where I’m in the pew or the back seat of a car in the humidity of August of yesteryear. There’s a lot of superstition & hip hop & classic imagery that appears in my work that aims to help bring some of those forgotten or abandoned narratives to the forefront. I’m really passionate & grateful about being able to work the way that I do, as a storyteller, & help preserve some of the ways of life that raised & nurtured me.