Renowned Detroit poet wins 2012 Kresge Fellowship
By Raina L. Baker
Special to the Michigan Citizen
“I’m not just a lesbian, I’m a woman. I’m not just a woman, I’m a Black woman. I’m not just a Black woman but a survivor of many things,” says slam poet Natasha T. Miller (T. Miller), a 2012 Kresge Artist Fellow. As modest as she is creative, Miller said even though she is extremely excited about her recent honor, she remains calm through it all because if you work hard, you shouldn’t be surprised to be rewarded.
T. Miller was one of 12 awardees to receive the 2012 Kresge Performing Arts Fellowship.
She started writing poetry just six years ago and has been working through different avenues to perfect the skill she didn’t know she had. But now that she’s found her creative place in the world, Miller says she can’t see herself doing anything else.
“If I wasn’t doing poetry then I would be doing poetry,” says Miller. “I played basketball but I couldn’t see me doing that for the rest of my life and I was in the military but didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”
She said she stopped imagining what life would be like without poetry because eventually God would have brought her back to it.
When T. Miller graduated from Henry Ford High School in 2003, she didn’t even know about poetry, she told the Michigan Citizen.
“I didn’t know much about it. I grew into it.” Miller recalled a past high school relationship when she would write down her thoughts in a notebook. Although she lost the notebook, the gift of writing and her ability to make words dance across pages, did not escape her. Friends and teachers whom she had shared her work with, recognized her as a poet first.
Uninterested in poetry at the time, Miller wrote a poem about basketball in a high school English class. After receiving encouragement from her teacher she later shared another poem with a friend and the response was, “Oh yea. You’re a poet.” Those words have manifested in Miller’s life.
Miller found herself at an open mic in a bar on the city’s east side. “That was my first time performing in a bar. That was actually my first time going to an open mic.” Miller says she’s always nervous when she performs for a number of reasons but she was especially nervous on that night. Before each performance now Miller says she prays and asks God to bless her performance and the ears of her audience.
Although Miller wants the audience to enjoy her, she also wants to convey a message.
The central theme in Miller’s work is forgiveness. “I’ve been through a lot in my short 27 years. I want to bring forgiveness in my poetry. You can’t heal, you can’t survive without forgiveness.”
Not afraid to talk about the elephants in the room, this petite woman with a powerful voice is more than a poet but an activist for the urban and LGBTQ community. She says it didn’t take her long to become vocal about her sexuality but she made it a point not to become a writer who only focused on the LGBTQ community. “I didn’t want to be typecasted,” she said.
But Miller says she writes for the time. In response to what is going on in society, she is writing more poems about the LGBTQ community now because it’s necessary. She says it was probably just as necessary when she first started performing but she didn’t recognize it then as much as she does now. “But that’s not all I have in my arsenal.” Miller isn’t aiming to be the voice of specific communities but to be the voice of the voiceless.
“In some moments I have to work a little bit harder on stage because I feel like people already judge and stereotype me. I feel that I have to impress you,” says Miller.
“Art is subjective. Everything you want to be poetry is poetry. Nobody can determine exactly what poetry is.”
Miller is currently working on her first documentary entitled, “Women on Woodward,” which tells the story of transgender prostitution in the community. She produced “The Biggest Gayest Show Ever” in New York City and is continuing to travel with the show. She is also working on her third book, which deals with working on how to make the most money as a touring and starving artist and how to save the most money while on tour. The book will highlight how to save, eat, drink, shop and budget in the performing industry. Her first two books are, “Dream of a Beginner” which is an anthology of personal quotes and “Coming out of Nowhere,” a social networking memoir about homosexuality and homophobia.
Now $25,000 richer — her reward from Kresge — and growing every day, Miller says she’s still just that Black girl from the west side of Detroit. She says she stays humble through it all and that every experience is a humbling one. “I don’t think God has ever put me in a position where I recognized that I needed to be humbled. You can never be too humble. I just try to maintain the blessing of being a writer.”
“A lot of people want to be remembered but I want to be remembered for doing something for the community. I want to be remembered as a Black lesbian born on the Westside of Detroit who was given nothing from anybody but used the resources and tools available to her and that God gave her to build an empire.” But Miller says that she isn’t just interested in building her own empire but in helping others to build. She says that every opportunity is a chance for her to build and to help others build. “I want to inform the community and I want people to believe in creating and building.”
Miller says that faith plays a huge role in her art. “This how I make my living so I gotta have faith. God has blessed me with a talent so I gotta have faith in that. Faith guides my performance every night.”
To reach T. Miller, follow her on Twitter @tmillerpoetry or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on the Kresge Arts Foundation and the 2012 Kresge Artist Fellows for literary and performing arts, visit www.kresge.org
Photo Courtesy of Raina L. Baker