by JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information
Ayodele Nzinga is a very talented, locally based writer, playwright, actress, businesswoman and poet who was selected to be the inaugural Poet Laureate of Oakland, back in 2021. In ‘23, she still holds the post.
Her hypnotic voice mixed with the conviction and politics that illuminate her words, mixed with the street slang and wittiness of today’s ghettos that she employs in her work, makes her one of the best wordsmiths, actresses and playwrights that I know of – based in the area. Her pen game and body of work opens portals into Black minds that allows for political education and self reflection to occur and demolishes false concepts of reality coming from a groupthink-white supremacists’ matrix mindset. For those who are being introduced to her work for the first time, she is like Dr. Francess Cress Welsing with a rhyme, mixed with a little Sonia Sanchez. Check her out in her own words.
JR Valrey: How and when did you become the Poet Laureate of Oakland?
Ayodele Nzinga: I was proclaimed poet laureate in 2021. I was selected after a nomination process.
JR Valrey: What does a Poet Laureate do for their city?
Ayodele Nzinga: Poet Laureates write poems for special occasions, serve as the official poet, participate in literary events, poetic ambassadors, take poetry where it wants to be, represents the voice of the place they represent – with a choice and style in how that happens and what it looks like especially in the case of being the first.
JR Valrey: How did you get interested in poetry? How old were you?
Ayodele Nzinga: I became aware of poetry as a distinct form in 6th grade. Thanks to Mr. Ceasar. I became interested in the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude Era in 7th grade.
JR Valrey: Why is it important for you to always put a message in your rhymes?
Ayodele Nzinga: I art in the tradition of the Black Arts Movement, in the continuum of art that transcends being “art for art’s sake” and continues the tradition of griots – a story is always about something. I am in conversation with myself, the world around me, my own context and history, and as Baldwin says “we write for the future” with so much at play, so much at stake. The responsibility of the artist is to honor the attention they receive by imparting value to those who pay attention.
JR Valrey: Can you tell us the history behind your annual theater event that happens in August? What’s planned for this August?
Ayodele Nzinga: BAMBDFEST, International was founded in 2019 to celebrate the Black Arts Movement and to animate Oakland’s only official cultural district, the Black Arts Movement Business District. The 31 day festival held in Black August became biennial after the 2021 event and returns this year in August. Radio Golf by August Wilson produced by the Lower Bottom Playaz will be one of the anchor events in the festival which will include artists from across the U.S. and the diaspora. To participate in BAMBDFEST events visit www.bambdfest.com.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about some of the films recently that you have been involved in? Are there any new films that you are in, that haven’t premiered yet?
Ayodele Nzinga: We are in post-production for “Flowers for the Trashman,” it will be streaming online soon. On stage, after directing a well-reviewed run of “Tasha,” by Cat Brooks, we are doing two Wilson plays in 2023, “Radio Golf” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” In development, we are working on a multi disciplined stage piece called, “Government Housing.” Books in print include “Horse Eaters,”“Sorrow land Oracle,” and “Incandescent.”
JR Valrey: How could people keep up with you online?
Ayodele Nzinga: https://www.instagram.com/wordslanger/
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media. He is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper office.