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A conversation with Vanessa German

Since arriving in Pittsburgh by way of Los Angeles and Milwaukee three years ago, Vanessa German of Monroeville has begun to make a name for herself as a poet, sculptor, photographer, painter and perhaps the only artist who can get away with creating...



What was your inspiration for all the blues featured in this chair?

I think about how blue women get, especially black women, and I think of the origins of the blues and how black people had to cross an expanse of blue to come to America. I've really been thinking about maybe I have inherited an ocean of blues and I have to carry through the blues that other women had before me. We all have sinned and there comes a point where you have to choose to do something. You have to give yourself the creative time. You've got to ascend from that, so even in carrying my inheritance of blues that I carry as a woman, I as an artist have to go through that.


How do those blues affect you as an artist?

I start to think about the ridiculousness of things, especially with young black people where they're coming up in a time when a new movement wants to swirl, it wants to whirlwind, it wants to become a tornado, but I'm surrounded by people -- I'm around poets who don't write. I'm around artists that who don't do anything. Very few people really move, and that really gets me down because my art pulls me. It is literally the way I see the world.


You recently had the opportunity to visit South Africa. What was that like?

When I went to Africa I noticed all the young people had a completely different wholeness and depth. People were so much deeper and everybody I met welcomed me and accepted me like no one else in America and like no other American could. The way I am as a person -- the way I get really excited when I'm walking, dancing or if I'm talking and I'll start singing. People will tell me afterward, "Man, Vanessa, that was really weird. You just broke out into song. I don't know what to think about that." But in Africa they recognize that as a characteristic of a certain tribe and that is the person in the tribe who is the poet, and the poet is exalted, especially if she is a woman.


You didn't think they would accept you in Africa?

The way they accepted who I was just completely whole. They were like "You're this way for a reason. Recognize that." And young people! That's the thing, it was the young people who would recognize that you dance for a reason and you sing and you perform for reasons and you have to carry those responsibilities. And there is no art in Africa. Everything has a purpose; they don't even have a word for art. Many of the young poets were so deep and deep is such a bitch-ass word. We've bastardized it. Everything is deep -- that's deep, she's deep. I mean, we say Beyonce's deep, you know what I'm saying?


You're into many different art scenes, but many recognize you mostly as a poet. Why do you think that's so?

I don't ever feel as good as I do when I'm on the mike. I get a lot of attention for being a poet. I mean, in a group of poets I'll read poetry and it'll be like nobody else read but me and that's just the way it'll be sometimes. But part of it is just because passion is recognizable -- it's so beautiful and attractive. I'm so passionate and people, especially black people, are really taken by someone who's taken with what they do.


What's one of your favorite poetic pieces that you've written?

"Black Boys Die Too Easy" is about black mothers who wait for their sons to come home on the front porch and they never come home. It's too hard to have a son, to have a black son right now, because the world wants to kill him. It wants to eat him. I was asking my friend how her sons were doing and she says, "They're black and in America." That was her answer. One was in jail, the other died a year ago. It's almost like it's such a wicked thing to be a black mom and not have the black father there.

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