Defining Personal and Cultural Identity with Delali Ayivor

Wednesday Mar 29th, 2017

Blog > Defining Personal and Cultural Identity with Delali Ayivor

What do you get when you mix sugar (in the form of delicious plantains), spice (that hits you with force of a well-crafted witticism), and everything nice (like that feeling after reading something that broadens your perspective)?  You have the recipe for the self-described “unapologetic, fat, black, femme” that is Delali Ayivor (2011 YoungArts Winner in Writing and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts). Her work has been published in On Verge: An Online Journal of Art CriticismThe Arts and Humanities Journal of the American University of ParisCreatequity, and American for the Arts ArtsBlog, amongst others. On April 18, 2017 Delali will moderate Salon: Women + Words with poet, language activist and educator Natalie Diaz at YoungArts.

Get to know Delali before she takes the stage during National Poetry Month:

What kind of writing do you generally create?

Originally I considered myself more of a fiction writer. I would say now I’m more focused on poetry and creative non-fiction. That’s what comes most naturally to me when I just sit down and write. That’s just how my thoughts come out. My work is a lot about myself, but then I think this also comes from having a background in anthropology. My work is kind of contextualizing myself. It’s a lot of the work that I do.

Is cultural identity something you actively explore in your writing or a place you gravitate to naturally?

Personal identity is probably the bedrock of what I write about. I think it’s interesting for me because I moved to the United States to take writing more seriously. And the entire time I have been here, I have been writing. I’ve been in the United States for about nine years. That’s kind of been a documentation of what it’s like to become a lot more aware of my cultural identity in different surroundings, in a different environment. Because I had the expectation – since I was born in the United States, then came back every summer – that I understood what it meant to be American. I knew what it felt like to exist as myself in that space. But I realized very quickly when I moved here that wasn’t true at all. In that being black, or being fat, or being a woman, or being any of these things I understood about myself in the context of being in Ghana had totally different meanings in the United States.

So I think a lot of writing, a lot of the reason I ended up writing so much, was just me being like, “Well this is weird.”  I thought I knew who I was and as it turns out you’re not the same person in two places. Your surroundings change that about you…or at least how people perceive it, which of course also has an effect on you.

Do you think your work overlaps with that of Natalie Diaz?

I would say that we’re both very honest. And that we’re not afraid to make ourselves look bad by being honest. And I would say that is something we both have in common in our work. Through writing, I discover things about myself that I don’t like. Like opinions I didn’t know that I had, that had never been articulated before. I think it’s important to kind of leave those things in there because they’re true. I see a lot of similar things with Natalie where she’s not afraid to say things that are critical of herself.

What do you think are the differences in your works?

Based off of the work of hers I read, she’s a much more controlled writer than I am. I think she’s really good at oscillating between temperatures and intensities. And a problem that I have, similar to me in real life, is I can’t be quiet. It’s very difficult for me to be that quiet or deliberate or subtle. I think that’s a personality trait that I have and it carries over into my writing. And she’s really good at having those moments of real intensity, where you’re very captivated and can’t look away. But also at building to those moments through quiet. Or through having the same effect on you but by doing something in a totally different register. That’s very difficult for me.

How has YoungArts played a part in your growth as a writer?

That’s an impossible question to answer because I feel like I can’t disentangle YoungArts from me being a writer at all. It’s all the same thing. It’s all one thing. I’m like 90% YoungArts at this point.

I just feel like no one will ever encourage you to keep making art the way YoungArts will encourage you to keep making art. So I think I straight up just wouldn’t do it if YoungArts didn’t keep encouraging me to do it and reminding me that it was important. It’s like “Oh. Hey. Delali. You should do this.” And I’m like “Yeah. You’re right. I should.”