I am pleased to introduce an amazing talent Naki Akrobettoe, a Ghanaian-American poet born and raised in Columbus, Ohio! I met Naki at a performance in Accra, Ghana a couple of years ago and was immediately impressed by the depth of her writing. In this interview I wanted to learn more about her influences; both the poets’ work that she likes to read and if there were any writers that she was able to learn from directly. We also discussed her heritage and how it manifests in her work. Naki was even nice enough to, figuratively, let us into her living space as she snapped a shelfie that includes No Disrespect by Sista Souljah, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Please take some time to get to know Naki Akrobettoe below and enjoy some of her work while you’re at it!
ShelfieGeneration: Naki, thank you for taking the time! Can you introduce yourself for anyone that doesn’t know?
Naki Akrobettoe: Hello World! My name is Naki (means first born girl). I have a lifelong obsession with poetry. I intend to spend the rest of my life learning how to master the craft. I am Ghanaian-American who loves homemade tacos and peanut butter soup. I have 3 amazing mini-me’s and I love to love.
SG: To start things off, I’d like to talk about some of your influences. I read that Phyllis Wheatley, Langston Hughes and Toi Derricote were some of the earliest. What in particular about these artists drew you to their work? Who else would you credit?
NA: Phyllis Wheatley is noted as being the first African-American woman poet to be published. That in itself is influential. She was a slave and I can only begin to imagine what that was like to be a slave and defy the odds against you. To learn to read and write and then get published. Unfortunately her later years were very dark and unrewarding in my opinion but none the less her plight, her writing, and her voice is what has always inspired me to find my own. I attest her struggle to my position as it stands today for me to even make claim that I aspire to be a great notable African- American contemporary poet. Langston Hughes was my first introduction to poetry and jazz poetry at that. I loved the musicality of his poetry. Toi Derricote was the first writer that I was introduced to in college by my professor Rane Arroyo. Her work was a mirror for me to see that it was okay to write about being a black woman in America and what that all entailed. And to never sound cliché’ but speaking my personal truth, Maya Angelou hands down has been one of the most influential writers that I have read. Along with Toni Morrison. Their work has been very instrumental in my own journey as a writer. And yet, I’m still discovering new writers everyday.
SG: You mentioned your professor Rane Arroyo just now and I’ve seen you bring his name up before. What have you learned from him?
NA: What I learned from Rane Arroyo was simple: Practice, perseverance, and self-preservation. Practice the art in order to perfect the craft, persevere over the obstacles and the injustices especially in the world of academia when it comes to being a minority and self-preservation in regards to writing about my culture and my experiences of being a black African woman especially here in America telling my own narrative.
SG: Langston Hughes once noted, “The pre-requisite for writing is having something to say.” When did you realize you had something to say? Is there anything that you can’t say in your work?
NA: I realized very early on that I had something to say. I have been writing for a very long time, but having the confidence to share and speak on the things that I write started in middle school. There isn’t anything at this point that to me seems off limits in my work other than I try my best to refrain from cursing, but that is just my preference. There are subjects that I find more difficult than others but I just believe that is a part of me growing as a writer. I once heard that writing is about discovering the answers to many of our questions. I can honestly say that I look forward to pushing past my current threshold and embracing the uninhibited writer that lies within.
SG: Can you lead us through your writing process? Do you have any pre-writing rituals?
NA: I struggle with this question a lot, only because I feel so fraudulent in my actions. I don’t nearly write as much as I would like to. I have spent the past three years truly learning what that means to have a “writing process”. In my MFA program, I learned that I needed to talk it out for a few hours. Like literally, talk about what was in my head. Much of my life recently has been in transition, moving from place to place, and so I don’t have a consistent routine. I wish I had something deep and meaningful to say for this question but I don’t. All I can advise to other writers is be intentional about the discipline of your craft.
SG: You aren’t just a writer, you are also a performer. What is it like to perform your pieces and how does that aspect of your career change the work?
NA: It really is about creating a following. Getting your voice heard as much as possible and being strategic about how that is done. I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing artist as well as perform alongside them on many stages and for me I am always shocked about when I think about what that means. I have always looked at myself in the past as not equal to many of those artist, but I had to tell myself there must be something about me and what I bring that has afforded me the opportunity to share the very same stage. People who love poetry simply love poetry for various reasons and to me it is about speaking to the hearts of people. Allowing them the space to connect and drawing them into my world, my space, but letting them know my work is relatable and captures their own personal truth and narratives.
SG: Who is your target audience?
NA: The entire world! That is so cliché’ but I am trying to reach the people in the world who need that inspiration, who need loving, and encouragement and who are losing hope in humanity. That is my target audience.
SG: What piece of yours is the most important to you? Why?
NA: That is a hard question! I would have to say that “A Poem That Healed” is probably the most important poem. I wrote that poem for my aunt when she was diagnosed with cancer. I was so angry and hurt by the doctors giving her such a short amount of time to live and I just couldn’t process the pain and the grief that I had. It was the last thing that I got to share with her over the phone before she passed away and she was the one person that told me to NEVER stop writing. That my gift would make room for me and take me all over the world and it has. Not only was that poem healing for her, and myself every time I share it, but it is also healing for others that I share it with.
SG: How powerful is the written word?
NA: I am a firm believer that written word and/or spoken is very powerful. Life or death in the tongue.
SG: What other creative things do you like to do in addition to poetry? Either as a hobby or with a bigger goal? Are you working on any non-poetry projects right now?
NA: I would love to pick my guitar back up, I also have a business that I am working on called Project Bronze with my business partner where we will be creating a federation of co-ops that support economic development for people of color in marginalized communities starting here in Columbus, Ohio. I am also in the works of developing a clothing line called ASE that will specialize in African attire for children.
SG: Your Ghanaian heritage seems to play a big role in your life. How does your identity (or identities) manifest itself in your art? And what does it mean to think globally?
NA: It shows up all the time! And I love it. The manuscript that I am currently working on “Crown Morning Gold” is laced with poetry that speaks to my African heritage. I believe that as I continue to grow, do more research and eventually spend more time in Ghana that will grow as my muse in my poetry even more. Whether its related to my spirituality, motherhood, or sexuality they all are connected to my heritage and I look forward to sharing that. [Thinking globally] means to understand that there are 7 billion people in the world. That means understanding this world is a market and that nothing is off limits.
SG: And I’d like to finish up with a few questions about your reading habits. What was the most recent book you’ve read? And what is the next book that you want to read?
NA: The latest book that I read and finished was All God’s Children Needs Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou and the next book that I am planning to read is “Home Going” by Yaa Gyasi
SG: Lastly, can you take a shelfie and let us know what we’re looking at?
NA: So, my Shelfie is Messy! This was such an intimate act, because I am so attached to my library. I know the books that I aspire to add, and the library in my own home that I desire to create. “Books to read”- Yurugu by Marimba Ani , No Disrespect by Sista Souljah, The Bluest Eye– Toni Morrison, The Alchemist– Paulo Coelho, Blood Dazzler– Patricia Smith, The Psychology of Wealth-Charles Richards, The Souls of Black Folks– W. E. B. Dubois and this truly is just to name a few!
SG: Wow! Thank you Naki! Thank you for your time.
For more information, you can visit Naki’s website or follow @NakiSpeaks on Twitter.