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An accomplished poet expands her multidisciplinary art practice, and meets new challenges along the way.

by Kemi Adeyemi / June 1, 2022

Person in a black and white graphic dress on a red couch, leafing through booksPoet Anastacia-Reneé photographed in her Capitol Hill home, where she does much of her writing. (Meron Menghistab for Crosscut)

Seattle has given Anastacia-Reneé a lot of love in the 15 years she has been in the Northwest. You may know her as poet-in-residence (2015-2017) at Hugo House, where she says her “whole career opened up.” Or as the Seattle civic poet (2017-2019) whose term included a TEDxSeattle talk, in which she shared her poem about “the talk” Black parents must have with their sons. Or as a playwright and performer unafraid to tackle matters of race, class, homophobia and sexism (9 Ounces: A One Woman Show; Queer, Mama. Crossroads). She has also the writer who astonished the Seattle literary scene by publishing three poetry collections — all in 2017.

Her gift is fierce, visceral writing, as seen in Forget It, her “fictional memoir,” which explores marriage, motherhood, identity and the dissolution thereof, and (v.), her call/response to Ntozake Shange’s watershed choreopoem, For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. (Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess praised the searing poems in (v.) by saying Anastacia-Reneé “broils the alphabet.”) Individual poems have also appeared in a range of publications, from Ms. magazine to Poetry Northwest. In “Wearing a Cape,” she writes:

yes/cut. it. all. off

yes/show. my. s(kin)

yes/let the long hair

be a myth on the floor

cut to the part where

the black woman is god

Anastacia-Reneé has two more books in the pipeline, due for a 2023 release from HarperCollins. But Anastacia-Reneé says she has always been more than this body of work. “I used to say that I was a poet only because at the time I was too afraid to say, ‘Actually, no, I'm not. Actually, I'm not just a poet. Actually, I'm not just a playwright,’” she says. She contains multitudes — as a queer mother, writer and teacher and also an interdisciplinary artist who has long worked across genres and mediums.

In 2006 she debuted her 40-minute documentary film GOTBREAST? about women and body image at LANGSTON’s Black Film Festival. She has exhibited her installation art in solo shows, such as The Fabric of Our Lives at the Northwest African American Museum in 2015, (Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts at the Frye Art Museum in 2021 and in galleries including Virago and The Alice, the now-defunct avant-garde Georgetown space.

Despite Anastacia-Reneé’s multifaceted practice, writing has been her career’s most defining feature. Having grown up in Kansas City, Missouri, she went on to earn a creative writing degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She secured coveted poetry fellowships with Cave Canem, Jack Straw and 4Culture’s ARC, and won the 2019 James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award in Literature from Artist Trust.

As a writer, Anastacia-Reneé has “full receipts street cred,” she says, but she feels stymied by the lack of support the city provides artists who want to branch out and explore. “Seattle wants you to be at A or Z; there is no middle space,” she muses. “We either want to see you from the baby stages or we want you to have it all together.” When artists are somewhere in between, it can be difficult to find support, especially when it comes to money. “I think with Seattle, you get funding after you do a thing,” Anastacia-Reneé explains. “Like after you do a thing, then people want to give you a grant.”

It’s a vexing position to be in: a decorated writer with a burgeoning exhibition practice who nonetheless struggles to parlay her talents into opportunities. Her experiences reflect those of many emerging artists, working artists and artists doing experimental work in Seattle.

The city’s expensive real estate market makes it challenging for artists to find affordable housing, let alone studio space where they can create their work. The market also shapes the kinds of exhibition spaces that are available and affordable — and galleries need to exhibit sellable work in order to pay their own bills. When spaces that show experimental work do pop up, they are often short-lived (e.g. Interstitial, The Alice, Mount Analogue). In short, artists do not have space to make experimental work, and experimental work is risky to exhibit.

“I want to play. Let me play, let me see what happens,” Anastacia-Reneé says. “And I just feel I don't feel the level of play anymore in Seattle. It's like you have to come ready or you don't get to play; and if you want to play, then you don't get to do anything big.”

The constraints on making art in Seattle have her in a reflective mood. “When you are creative and you're a multigenre person who doesn't do the norm in any of the things, it can either break you, or you are like, I'm going to make make, make, make, make and maybe when I die, somebody will be like, ‘Oh, my God, this is actually awesome.’ You know?” Anastacia-Reneé hasn’t exactly been broken by her experiences in Seattle — but she says she won't remain in the city for much longer.

“I truly feel like in 15 years I've given my absolute all,” she says. “I don't regret all that I've given because it has helped me be who I am today, but I’m looking forward to experiencing a different kind of energy that might be more welcoming to letting me experiment.”

Anastacia-Reneé’s work and family life have her looking toward New York, a city that has long drawn creatives. She will not leave with ill will, more like an acknowledgement of the challenges of living and creating work here as a Black person. “Seattle is so bittersweet,” she explains. “It's like the girlfriend that I love. Like, I love her, she's sexy, she's so nice — but, you know … might not be the best match.”

Anastacia-Reneé is going to continue to create work, of course, no matter where she is. “Something feels like it's brewing, and I want to give it attention in 2023,” she says. “I hope that the universe will open it up so I can actually spend time creating it in the way I envision it.”

Authors & Contributors

Kemi Adeyemi

Kemi Adeyemi

Black Arts Legacies Project Editor