Part One: Interview
Dwayne Morgan: Introvert on Centre Stage
Dwayne Morgan continues to be an artistic and community leader over 20 years after
devoting his life to the craft of spoken word. He has published seven books of poetry,
produced six albums, toured the world performing, and performed for dignitaries and
with some of the world's top musicians. He is an integral part of the spoken word
movement that is now ubiquitous across Canada.
Interview by Kirk Ramdath, Managing Editor of Wax.
Kirk Ramdath: You are a prolific writer, performer, and organizer, and you have been
for many years. As a creator, how do you think your approach to writing and performing
has changed since the first years that you became a serious artist?
Dwayne Morgan: I consider myself to be in a constant state of learning. I have seen,
experienced, and been exposed to many things over the past twenty-one years, all of
which play some role in shaping me as a person and artist. As an introvert, it's taken
years for me to truly feel at home on stage, and be able to share freely. It was years
before I really came in to my own. I think that my first tour overseas was really eye
opening, and completely changed the trajectory of my career.
For years, I had been performing in Canada and the United States, then the opportunity
came for me to travel to England and Germany. My time in England went over very well,
but the major learning came in Germany, where my performances didn't go over as
well as I had hoped. I was riding high and this was a very humbling experience. For a lot
of people, they would blame the people in Germany for them not doing well, but I chose
to look at myself to figure out why I didn't have the success that I wanted. What I realized
was that a lot of my work at that time was localized, meaning that it was about where I
was from, and who I was in that environment. There is nothing wrong with that, but
there's no way that it could relate to audiences on another continent. From that moment
on, I understood that to truly be successful in the way that I wanted, I would have to
broaden my perspective and begin looking at how I fit in to the greater world around me.
From this point, my writing, focus, and thought patterns changed, which have allowed
me to achieve greater success locally, nationally, and internationally.
KR: You describe yourself as a social entrepreneur. One of the things I remember
hearing about you when I first saw you perform (in 2005 or 2006) was that you were a
"full-time spoken word artist." At that time in my life I had just discovered my own love
for writing, and being an artist full-time wasn't something I yet considered for myself.
Nonetheless, I noted that descriptor. Almost 10 years later, I can see now that your
success as an independent artist and a person of colour helped me to believe that I can
have success as an artist in Canada. What was it like for you coming up? Are there any
artists or moments you can point to as being integral to helping you believe you could do
all of what you have accomplished?
DM: It has now been twenty-one years since I first stepped on a stage, and spoken word
is all that I've really done with my adult life. It was definitely a challenge for me when I
was coming up, as there were few opportunities to get on stage, especially for young
people. What we now call spoken word, didn't even really exist at that point. I'm not even
sure when that term started being used widely. Prior to realizing that I could write and
share stories, I wasn't in to the arts, so this was all very new to me, but it also created
As there were few outlets to get on stage, I decided to stop waiting for people to notice
me, and to begin creating stages for myself and other artists of various disciplines. While
in high school and university, youth talent shows became extremely popular, and I used
these opportunities to build a name of myself, whether I was the producer of the
event, or just an artist in it. From early in my career, I had the mindset that I wouldn't fit in
to the mainstream, and would have to do much on my own. The shows that I was
producing really helped to get my name out there in the public, and I began to
develop my own scene, creating opportunities for others who had similar interests, but
were excluded by mainstream series.
The issues with the mainstream also extended to publishing and the League
of Canadian poets, who didn't recognize spoken word artists. Long before self-publishing
became the billion dollar industry that it is today, I was self publishing and selling
thousands of units without retail or mainstream support. As the spoken word scene
developed, poet, Andrea Thompson, was instrumental in lobbying that I should be
accepted in to the League of Canadian Poets, which eventually happened.
Artists like Black Katt, Andrea Thompson, and Lillian Allen, offered me great
support from the beginning of my career, but for the most part, I have been a loner,
quietly building events and infrastructure to facilitate much of the growth that has
happened in Toronto's spoken word scene.
KR: Approaching a school board to organize a poetry slam league with 23 teams is a
huge endeavour. How did that come about, and how do you feel it benefits youth to
participate in slam poetry?
My poetry slam league with the York Region District School Board has been
several years in the making. I first approached the Toronto Board and had the go ahead
to start working to produce the idea, but internal personelle issues at the Board
caused the project to be stalled. Not refusing to let the idea die, I then pitched it to other
school boards, and began working with the York Region Board after they showed
interest. I started working with the school board a year ago to put the plan in to action.
Our first task was to see how many schools would be interested. We had close to 30
show interest. By the time we were ready to get the league started, we were down to
twenty-three elementary and secondary schools who were confirmed to participate.
I am credited with starting Ontario's first poetry slam series, and still produce the biggest
slams in Toronto, so I've had plenty of experience with the form. The first thing that we
had to do was educate and train the teachers on spoken word and poetry slams. The
teachers were then given the task of selling the idea to their students. Once they had
students interested, we did presentations to the students to get them excited about the
league. Schools with poetry clubs were able to form their teams from the club, while
other schools had to have in-school poetry slams to make their teams.
Once all twenty-three teams were set, we then had to organize getting them together to
compete against one another, which was an amazing experience to witness, with so
much insight and passion coming from the youth. At present, there are four elementary
and secondary schools gearing up for the finals on the 22nd of April.
I began my career while in high school, and seeing how the world is becoming
increasingly geared around impersonal forms of communication, I understand that
providing a platform for people to share is a powerful experience. Even after the
competitions, we finished early and decided to have an open mic. Kids wrapped around
the room lining up to get on stage again to share more.
I've had teachers tell me that this process has been the only thing keeping some of their
students engaged at school, affirming how important this league has the potential to be.
There are a lot of problems with slam, and I am aware of them based on my experience
with the events, however, in this case, I do believe that the pros outweigh the cons, and
the slam league is creating opportunities for youth to write and express themselves,
represent their schools, network with other young people, and get connected to other
Continue to Dwayne Morgan's Poetry and Spoken Word.