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'Lift my voice': Ebony Stewart hosts an open-mic poetry night for MLK Day

Ebony Stewart
SARAI WALTON
/
The Vortex
Ebony Stewart

On the evening of Martin Luther King Jr Day, the Vortex will host an open mic night of poetry dedicated to the legacy and spirit of Dr. King. Playwright and poet Ebony Stewart will host the show, but since it’s an open mic night, even she doesn’t know what the evening has in store. “I don’t have any ideas, yet, yeah!” she says with a laugh.

“Folks will come in and those who want to sign up to be on the open mic list will sign up,” she continues, “and those who are just there as, you know, supporters… of spoken-word and page poetry will definitely be in the audience. That’s all I know. I love that there’s an element of surprise to this, though.”

Stewart won’t know ahead of time who will be performing or what sort or poems they’ll perform, but she does have some hopes for the evening. “I’m really hoping for a diverse group of people, right? A diverse group of culture, ages, ethnicities,” she says. “I just really want it to be a diverse group of people in one setting because I really think that that represents what we know as far as the commercialized version of Martin Luther King, right? And I really hope that that happens so we can get the variations of stories and poetry happening in one room, to appreciate each other. But also I’m hoping that there is a little bit of, you know, revolutionary type folk there too that are ready for change or just also helping us to remember that poetry does transform, and it does speak to the people. So I’m hoping that happens – some political views, too.”

If the open-mic goes the way Stewart would like, there will be some hopeful and uplifting poetry but also some real truths shared. “What we know about Martin Luther King is that there was this person who stood for the people and wanted freedom and really was talking about Black people in particular,” she says. “And so while we think of him as this person who was like bring everybody together, I don’t want to shy away from the idea and the truth that he was assassinated, right? And he was hated by other people as well. And so I think having that honest truth and focus being on the humility of humanity and people but also speaking against things that are wrong – poetry does that. It just really can grab hold of any heart that’s in the room and kind of pull people in. And I [also] love the celebration, because poetry doesn’t have to be political. It can be fun and energetic, too.”

The only poet you’re sure to hear on Monday night will be Stewart herself – she’ll be performing a poem or two as part of her hosting duties. “Of course!” she says. “I don’t think that the Vortex would have me come and host anything and me not lift my voice. And I do hope that that is an encouragement as well, because I want to share the stage with people that are like-minded but also people that will help me to think outside of my own ways of thinking as well. It’s just going to be very organic and the people that are there are people that really are going to want to be there, too. Everything is going to be super intentional, because that night will never happen that way ever again.”

The MLK Day open mic poetry night is Monday, January 16. Signups are at 6:30 and the show starts at 7:00.

Mike is a features producer at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for KUT.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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