Words by Walker Lyle Photos by Ashley Haguewood
Amidst a fully booked tour extending through February 2017, local poet and artist Ebony Stewart was able to provide some insight into her artistic origins, inspirations, and her history throughout the spectra of theater, writing, sex education, and human awareness.
Born and raised in Baytown, Texas, Ebony inherited a poetic connection and artistic desire as one would receive a family heirloom. Ebony recalls with a smile, ”My grandmother handed me a Maya Angelou book when I was nine…” This poetic seed, fostered in blood and tradition, would grow into a career aim, landing Ebony at Texas State in San Marcos as an English major. While she expresses a culture shock with the move, stating she “didn’t like it very much,” the young writer overcame the difficulties in standardized creative education, remembering “all but one or two professors told me that I was a poor writer, that I didn’t have clear and consecutive thoughts. When they told me that, it deflated me. It made me very self-conscious, and I never wanted to share my work with anyone.”
But, like an open flame dampened and compacted in a downpour, her passion smoldered into a raging heat that would emerge in truth and craftsmanship. Eventually connecting with Austin Neo-Soul in San Marcos, Ebony found a welcoming community of poets; her talents augmented through artistic fellowship with the likes of Zell Miller III and Da’Shade Moonbeam. She landed in Austin in 2007, and her accomplishments in theater and slam poetry numbered among the local greats to this day.
This chosen family has given her a place to call home, for better or worse. “The poetry community here is very family-oriented,” she says. “[There are] moments where maybe you’re the big sister and you didn’t sign up for this,” Ebony expands yet, “that love, and those connections will never be lost, and it’s why I’m still so connected to Austin.” Her love is a fierce love and extends to every facet of the human experience that we can bear witness to in this city. “I know people come because it’s sunny, or it’s ‘cool,’ or ‘weird,’… but I’m here because my family is here,” she assuredly states.
Her inspirations stem from a deep connection to the marginalized human experience, manifesting most prominently in sex education and how humans perceive each other. “Teaching 6th and 7th graders were some of the best performances of my life,” she laughs. “You gotta be quick, careful, and mean what you’re saying. You gotta be willing to say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘go look it up.’” Her experiences with public sex education, along with its inherent challenges in the public sector of the American south, are the foundation of a style that promotes a long overdue understanding, respect, and even worship towards one another, seeing each other as what Ebony calls “holy cavities,” a sentiment which she strives to bring back to our daily lives.
Ebony is adamant in her creed, declaring “I am a part of whatever artistic energy that is going to allow me to be great, and honest, and true, and passionate about what I’m doing. I can’t fake this.” This survival is the sustaining force amidst constant change, where so much is at stake. “As I’m making this a career, I only want to do what I can feel good about. Just make good art. Art keeps the world alive. Art is about survival.” She is sure of her position, saying, “If I’m at least writing a poem that’s honest, if I’m showing up, if I’m validating, if I’m listening, willing to learn, to do something different, and to be uncomfortable.” Ebony adds with passion in her voice, “I don’t think there is a life worth living that isn’t uncomfortable.”