ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her newest collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books.
Arisa was awarded a 2013-14 Cultural Funding grant from the City of Oakland to create the libretto and score for Post Pardon: The Opera, and received, in that same year, an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation to fund the dear Gerald project, which takes a personal and collective look at absent fathers.
Selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List, Arisa is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, she has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005, 2014 and 2016, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.
A native New Yorker, living in Oakland, California, Arisa serves on the board of directors for Nomadic Press. She is a faculty advisor in the low- residency BFA Creative Writing Program at Goddard College and was a visiting scholar at San Francisco State University’s The Poetry Center, where she developed a digital special collections on Black Women Poets in The Poetry Center Archives. For the Spring 2017 semester, the graduate creative writing program at Saint Mary’s College of California welcomed Arisa as the distinguished visiting poet in residence.
Photo by Nye’ Lyn Tho
Why I Write
I write because I’m trying to love others and myself.
It is a way of getting to.
It’s an opportunity to try on humanity, from varying points of view. If I can write from the perspective of the murdered and murderer, I can discover in myself something I did not know.
To get to a place where I am not ashamed of my secrets.
To not judge.
It’s how I keep myself sane and honest. Growing up with six other siblings, a mother and her partners and their intimate violence, I needed a space to breathe, to remind myself that I had a voice that could be listened to, even if it was only by me. Writing allows me my own truth, to uncover the stories I had learned about myself.
Writing is raising the silenced and inaudible voices to heard.
I’ve chosen poetry to help me navigate the questions I ask about people and the things people do, and the systems that we create to keep people doing the same, often, unhealthy things they do.
As an intuitive person, I can’t let things go: I like the challenge of finding the words to remake the moment again. The constant translation of events, situations, and emotions keep my brain turned-on.
I like to be turned-on, awakened.
It is truly, the times when I feel safe. Free to take risk, to emote, and to be led by imagination without fear.
Sometimes, I need a knife, a lover, a priest, a compass, and the poem offers direction, listens, loves, and stabs.
It allows me to not be while still being. When you walk in the world as black, woman, queer, poor, and the such, you get read before you reveal who you are. And sometimes, there is no space to learn who you are without being constantly challenged by assumptions, stereotypes, and expectations to perform or produce in a certain way because of those social identities. So writing is restorative, recuperative, and permits me to ask myself vulnerable questions about my own who-ness and humanness.
I love it.