Brief Biography: Deonte Osayande is a poet and performer from Detroit, Mi. His poetry has appeared in over a dozen different print and online publications and has won awards in the Wayne Literary Review and Dudley Randall Poetry Contests. He has been a member of three Detroit Regional Poetry Slam Teams and is currently on his second Detroit National Poetry Slam Team. When not giving readings across North America he teaches creative writing to inner city your through the Inside Out Detroit Literary Arts Program.
Geosi Gyasi: You honestly like to be identified as an African-American poet? Could you define who an African-American is?
Deonte Osayande: I do take pride in being called an African American poet. It is a part of my heritage and a part of my identity. One day I would love to go to Africa, as well as get to know more African American parts of the US that are similar to Detroit, like Oakland, Baltimore and New Orleans. I feel like for an African American, you’re always the other in the US, always thought of as a minority, a minority that may be distant from where your people originate from, that has to deal with the beauty and ugliness of not being the main people that come to mind. I imagine that it would be beautiful to experience the beauties and ugliness of life in Africa. Also on a personal account I would love to follow the trip my father made in West Africa over a decade ago. Part of why I didn’t get into poetry until I was in college was I didn’t know that there was a rich history and tradition of black poetry on either side of the Atlantic. I liked poets like Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath in high school but at that time I didn’t know there was poetry that identified with me. Now when I teach my students I always remind them of that, because I feel like loving and owning your identity is a key part of being a person as well as a writer.
Geosi Gyasi: How has America shaped you into becoming who you are today?
Deonte Osayande: America has shaped who I am in very interesting ways. This is the country I was born in and that I call home but I was brought up in a family that was always in tune with the African and African American experience. When I was young my father traced our family roots back to Africa and traveled to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast in search of our family origins. After this trip he brought back a lot of that relationship not only through what he physically brought back but through the oral history and stories he told. Because of my upbringing I see Africa, America, and the world through multiple lenses, through perspectives that at least to me, try to be genuine and honest.
Geosi Gyasi: How was your entry into the world of poetry?
Deonte Osayande: At first I didn’t like poetry. Before college the stuff I was being taught as far as poetry was all old white male authors from hundreds of years ago. I’m an inner city black male who grew up with a mother and father who were around during the Civil Rights Movement and two sisters in the household. When I went to college I was originally in the Engineering career path. One of the required courses at my university was for everyone to take a few literature and creative writing classes. When I took the intro to creative writing class I instantly fell in love with all the different writers and poets I was being introduced to. When I went to my first open mic and saw people recite their works it opened my eyes to the fact that poetry was in fact still alive to this day.
Geosi Reads: Do you remember this line: ‘I wanted to be the accident uniting parents’. Could you help with the first few lines?
Deonte Osayande: Huntsville is one of the most personal poems that I feel that I’ve written so far. I was raised by biologically my grandparents and spent most of my childhood not thinking about the parents that birthed me. When I got older and got to know them better I came to realize that they were really young when I was born, and I began blaming myself for them not working out together. A couple of years ago I got to finally travel back to my birthplace of Huntsville, Alabama and spend the week with my birth mother, siblings and extended family. Although it was a beautiful experience filled with great memories one thing that stuck with me is that my birth mother’s in-laws died in a car accident the night I arrived and I blamed myself for that for a while.
Geosi Geosi: How personal are your poems?
Deonte Osayande: How personal my poems are varies from poem to poem. I write poems about myself but I also write poems about experiences I’ve witnessed, about what I’ve seen strangers go through, what I’ve seen friends and family go through and what I’ve seen from a distance. I think it’s important to have a balance between writing about yourself and writing about things that aren’t centered around you.
Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering what entailed in your former position as a Presidential Ambassador for the University of Detroit Mercy?
Deonte Osayande: When I was a Presidential Ambassador for Detroit Mercy I essentially was a student that had to represent the university at different times. It was an interesting experience because these were high class events where donors, alumni and other large supporters of the university were at and I had to mingle with them. I’m not really sure I ever fit in with the role, haha. One of my memories that sticks with me the most about doing it was a time I was at a play representing the school and someone I went to high school with was a server at the event and I had to think about that experience for a while.
Geosi Gyasi: Having been a presenter at the Symposium for the Society of the Study of Midwestern Literature, do you believe in the geography of literature? Does Midwestern literature has a place in modern literature?
Deonte Osayande: Geography is definitely important when it comes to literature. It’s part of the writer’s identity and can serve as inspiration. As a poet who performs his work I get to hear as well as read a lot of poetry and you can see and listen to the difference in poet based on region. Wherever home is always reflects in a writer’s work and you can tell through the techniques, topic matters and ways poems are written and shared.
Geosi Reads: You’ve self-published two chapbooks (Quills of Fire, 2010, and Metamorphosis, 2011). Besides, your book Separation (2012) was published by Papa’s Waltz Press. The question is, why do you self-publish when there are a number of traditional printing press around?
Deonte Osayande: I think it’s healthy to learn and be familiar with the different avenues to publishing and sharing your work. I self published those first two for many reasons. I felt like I was a writer with something meaningful to say and something I wanted to share with people when I wasn’t physically there. Also as a performer I needed something for people to have after seeing me perform my work. Since then I’ve spent more time publishing individual poems and trying to get a full collection done with a press. I’m currently working on two manuscripts of poetry that I’m trying to get published with a couple publishers. I wouldn’t be in that position now or wouldn’t know that that is the route I currently want to take if it wasn’t for self publishing previously.
Geosi Gyasi: Who single handedly influenced you to write poetry?
Deonte Osayande: There are so many poets and writers who have influenced me, I couldn’t name them all. I’m a believer in the village and I would definitely say that I was influenced as a writer by the city of Detroit and the community within the city that is around me.
Geosi Gyasi: If I was going to write a poem about love, who would you ask me to read for inspiration?
Deonte Osayande: A love poem, I would say Rumi. Either Rumi or Hafez. Those are two of my favorites and I know I haven’t even scratched the surface on reading either of their stuff. I wish their more radical and political poems would be recognized more amongst those who are familiar with them because I think the most beautiful love poems are more than just romantic. The most beautiful love poems are often the most daring.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you recite one of my favourite poems of yours, ‘Silent Moments’? Perhaps, a line or two would do.
Deonte Osayande: Sure thing, although it kinda sucks for me because that love poem was written for someone it didn’t work out with, haha. My favorite line would be the one I feel rings most true, because we learn, evolve or adapt in some way from all of our relationships.
– “You really
love someone when you begin
to unintentionally mimic each other.”