Dwayne Morgan

24 Oct 2018

Dwayne Morgan

The Poetry Extension’s founder and curator, Natalya Anderson, conducts a Q&A with the poet and spoken word artist, Dwayne Morgan.

Dwayne Morgan is a poet and spoken word artist from Scarborough, Ontario. He is the 2018 winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Spoken Word, and is the recipient of both the African Canadian Achievement Award and the Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in the Arts. Dwayne is the winner of three Canadian Urban Music Awards (2001, 2003, 2005). In 2005, he was recognized as Poet of Honour at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Vancouver, and in 2008 his contribution to the Arts and Canadian society were recognized on the Legacy Black History Month poster. Dwayne has published ten books, most recently No Apologies (2016), and Before I Was Born (2015). Dwayne has shared the stage with many of Canada’s top artists including Russell Peters, Kardinal Offishal, Jully Black, and Nelly Furtado, and has recorded with Drake. In 2013, Morgan was inducted in to the Scarborough Walk of Fame.

When did you begin writing poetry?

I began writing poetry back in 1993, during my final year of high school. Up until that point, I had no interest in writing, and didn’t know that it was something that I could do. I wanted to be in a school assembly with the rest of my friends. Having no talent, I figured that writing a poem would be the easiest thing that I could do to get on stage; that poem ended up changing my life.

What drew you to poetry as a genre?

At the time when I wrote my first poem, I had visited the ‘All Truths Spoken Are Poetry In Motion’ poetry series, curated by Black Katt, which was a hub for emerging young, Black voices, several times. I loved the energy and creativity in that space. It was very welcoming and inviting. I would later find out that that feeling only came from that series, as I, and the other poets of my generation were rarely welcomed at poetry readings, as our style was disruptive to the norm.

How did you journey from Scarborough boy to sharing the stage with the likes of so many great Canadian and international artists?

From the beginning of my career, I understood that poetry was a genre that didn’t bring in huge sales numbers, so I had to come up with a creative approach to my career. I never believed that what I did, or what I wanted to say should be limited to coffee houses, so I sought out opportunities outside of the literary world. Instead of seeing myself as a poet, I saw myself as an entertainer who used poetry as his vehicle. This approach allowed me to share stages with Russel Peters, Alicia Keys, and many others over the course of my career.

How has it felt creating and working in the Canadian spoken word scene? What do you like, and what would you like to see change and evolve?

It’s really hard to answer this one. My career has been all about being pushed to the margins. The term Spoken Word wasn’t even used when I first started my career. As more of us started to show up at poetry readings, that ‘label’ was placed on us, to differentiate us from the real ‘poets’. This being pushed to the margins created the landscape where I had to create for myself and my community. I started an open mic series, I started Ontario’s first poetry slam series, I started showcases and concerts, etc., to ensure that those like me had stages where they felt welcome. There is a great sense of pride, as much of what now exists in the scene has had my imprint on it in some way, shape, or form.

I like that there are so many opportunities for artists, however, I believe that the scene is stagnant. There is very little that is new and exciting happening in the scene right now. Artists need space to grow and develop, but a lot of those spaces don’t seem to exist right now.

Are there some new poets of colour you’ve recently discovered and would recommend?

Absolutely. I spend a lot of time mentoring younger artists. Patrick DeBelen is fantastic. Scribe is awesome. Randell Adjei is coming in to his own, and Paulina O’Kieffe is consistently solid.

Paulina read for us in February, and she was remarkable! What’s next for you?

Well, I just celebrated 25 years of doing poetry full time, which is a feat, that some days I’m not sure how I managed to pull off. On December 8th, I’m hosting the 20th anniversary of my When Brothers Speak show, which is the largest and longest running showcase of its kind in North America. I have my second children’s book coming out over the holidays, and a number of things in the works for the new year!