By Elliot Owen
The Bay Area Reporter
Award-winning poet Andrea Gibson is in San Francisco this week for two appearances, both of which are expected to be well-attended. Gibson, who identifies as queer/genderqueer and uses gender-neutral pronouns, will make their first stop at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center Thursday, October 16 at 7 p.m. for a conversation about creativity facilitated by Ahmunet Jessica Jordan.
Gibson’s second stop is Nourse Theater for a California Institute of Integral Studies-sponsored event on Friday, October 17 at 8 p.m. As part of CIIS’ commitment to hosting conversations that address race, class, and gender, Gibson’s performance feature is expected to touch on issues of war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and spirituality – all subjects, Gibson told the Bay Area Reporter, that inspire flurries of creative expression within them “the most quickly and the most often.”
Karim Baer, director of public programs at CIIS, told the B.A.R. why it’s important for the institute to provide a platform for artists and activists like Gibson.
“Our mission is to inspire personal and social transformation,” Baer said, “and Andrea Gibson’s work embodies not only deep sentiments of love and reverence, but also provokes critical thought on race, class, privilege, war and so many other injustices in our society. I can’t think of a better poet to feature as we work to use the arts as a catalyst for social change.”
And, Gibson said, they also intend to integrate “lots of love, lots of feminism, lots of crying, and lots of laughter” during the event, which costs between $27-$65 to attend.
Gibson, 39, was born into a working class Baptist family in Calais, Maine, a rural community with a current population of just over 3,000. In 1999, they moved to Colorado where they discovered spoken word as an art form, and ran with it. Gibson currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.
“I love the energy of spoken word,” Gibson said, “the vulnerability and uncensored emotion. I love how much presence it asks of an audience, and how the audience in many ways pulls the poem out of the poet. Additionally, the spoken word movement is essentially a social justice movement and I discovered it during the same time I was getting really passionate about looking for ways to be of service in the world. Combine all of that with a ferocious terror of public speaking, and this is what I find myself doing.”
Gibson’s accomplishments include being a four-time Denver Grand Slam champion, a fourth place finish out of 350 poets at the 2004 National Poetry Slam, a third place finish at the 2006 and 2007 Individual World Poetry Slams, and a first place finish at the inaugural Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2008.
With five full-length albums and two books under their belt, Gibson’s works have been featured on the BBC, Air America, Free Speech TV and in 2010, was read aloud in place of a morning prayer at the Utah State Legislature, according to Gibson’s website.
Gibson creates art to make people feel, to provoke and elicit change that first starts in the heart. After the heart is touched, Gibson said, the mind eventually catches up, a one-two punch that’s impact cannot be unstated. Shifting normalized ideas grounded in bigotry and ignorance, after all, is central to Gibson’s work – and Gibson uses their own experience to do that.
“I think it’s incredibly healing to speak your truth,” Gibson said, “and to speak it out loud to a room full of open-hearted people. That is truly medicine to me, to my nervous system, to my spirit, to my sense of safety in the world. And to be part of a movement that’s rooted in speaking what’s true, and is also invested in speaking that truth in a way that is beautiful; it all feels like necessary goodness, necessary inspiration, and it honestly rallies me to feel and live in a way I’m not certain I would have learned how to live otherwise.”
It’s no doubt that Gibson is a reference point, an inspiration, a touchstone for many within the LGBTQ community, especially queer youth. And like every LGBTQ person, Gibson was once a fledgling version of themselves undergoing the often arduous process of settling into a self-determined identity. The three things, Gibson said, they would tell their younger self would be:
“One, feel into the scary feelings. They are worse the more you try to avoid them. Two, let yourself be awkward. In fact, let yourself be the most awkward. Three, remember, it will always be livable, even when it’s not.”
And for the queer artists seeking parity between creative output and financial security, Gibson offered this, inspirational knowledge they will build upon at both appearances this week:
“Keep constant faith in art and community,” Gibson said. “Register success by how open your heart feels. Listen more often than you speak. Remember the queer artists who came before you, who kept you alive when you were young and becoming and growing into your own light. Work hard at whatever it is you love.”
For Gibson’s October 16 event, tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. To purchase tickets to either event, visit http://www.ciis.edu/Public_Programs/Public_Programs_
Events/Gibson_FA14_(performance).html. The LGBT center is located at 1800 Market Street. The Nourse Theater is at 201-299 Hayes Street.