2023: Dasan Ahanu

Dasan Ahanu, Poetry

2021.2.26 Dasan Ahanu by StanChambersJr 42_headshotDasan Ahanu is an artist, educator, scholar, and cultural organizer based in Durham, North Carolina. In addition to performing across the country, Dasan has hosted or coordinated many Poetry, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Cultural Arts events. As a writing fellow with the Center for Community Change in Washington, DC, he wrote and published articles and essays about the economic struggles for families, students, and artists. His artistic work was featured on National Public Radio (NPR), where he was noted for his appearances on News and Notes with Ed Gordon and State of Things with Frank Stasio. He has been showcased on NBC 17, featured on the third season of Lexus Verses and Flow aired on TV One, and in a documentary, Poet Son, presented on WUNC-TV as a part of the North Carolina Visions film series. He has worked with a number of North Carolina Hip Hop and Jazz artists and released several spoken word recordings. As a resident artist with the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC, he has developed poetry and spoken word programming for youth and adults. He has competed regionally and nationally in poetry slam as a founding member and coach of Durham, NC’s own Bull City Slam Team. He is co-founder and managing director of Black Poetry Theatre, a Durham-based theatre company that creates and produces original stage productions. Dasan is the author of four poetry collections that include The Innovator (HWJW Publishing 2010), Freedom Papers (HWJW Publishing 2012), Everything Worth Fighting For: an exploration of being Black in America (Flowered Concrete 2016), and Shackled Freedom: Black Living in the Modern American South (Willow Books 2020).

 Dasan is also an alumnus of the Nasir Jones Fellowship with the Hip Hop Archive at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research. He is a scholar whose academic work focuses on critical writing, creative writing, Hip Hop, and popular culture. Currently, Dasan is a visiting professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC where he teaches courses on Hip Hop and Black culture and a consultant working with organizations on art-based strategies. He is also the Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures with Carolina Performing Artseep South Magazine’s Fall/Winter Reading List. The Good Luck Stone appeared on Summer Reading Lists for Deep South Magazine, Writer’s Bone, The Big Other and Buzz Feed and won Best Historical Novel post-1900 in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Photo credit: Stan Chambers

For more information about Dasan, please visit his website.

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When I think about being of service to the art and artists, I believe the consideration is how you create capacity, how you nurture their development, how you provide a viable platform, and how you keep the art at the center. If you are allowed to facilitate the presentation of that art to an audience, careful thought must go into how that is done and how is it done in a way that allows the artists the greatest opportunity to thrive. When the art and artists thrive, the community is fed. The community’s appreciation for the art grows. A deeper connection is fostered. There is more possibility for the art form.

I love to create. I also love to help cultivate possibilities. My community has supported me with doing both for poetry and poets.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give a name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” — Audre Lorde

One of the things that I have learned navigating my life as an artist is that the poems aren’t the only thing that continues to get shaped, transformed, or improved. You go through edits and revisions too. You grow and adapt. Your audience changes. The venues change. The community shifts. The scene changes. You gain savvy, insight, and understanding. Through it all, you develop a greater sense of responsibility for what’s on the page, what goes on stage, and what happens in between.

Poetry is powerful. It is necessary. We tell stories. We pull the veil off the bs in this world. We remind people of the beauty, of the joy. We speak for those who feel they can’t. We challenge thinking. We open minds and hearts. We increase understanding. We push back at bias. We affirm and we recognize. We tell people it is ok to feel. We do it… with poems.

I remember doing a workshop at the Southern Writer’s Symposium at Methodist University. One of the participants was a music professor at UNC Chapel Hill. We talked after and he said that he tells his students that music is the closest thing they will get to sorcery in their life. The ability to have that kind of impact on an audience. He said that he now understood poetry to have the same effect. He’s right. We can make use of a very special moment. It’s that moment of openness that comes with art. Those few beats that someone reserves for taking in the art, before making any judgments or decisions about what it is they have taken in. We can do so much with those moments. So very much.

I want to spread the good word about what that means. To talk about what we can accomplish with these poems, and what poetry can be a catalyst for. Talk about what poets are capable of, and what the benefits are. To explore what the possibilities are.

I mean, take a moment and think about it. Isn’t it amazing?