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The Interview: Barbra Fant

Poet / Performance Artist / Healer There’s a certain metamorphosis that occurs after the longevity of sorrow. It’s a metamorphosis through which poet Barbara Fant has transfigured and has lived to tell. Fant’s words have floated through illuminating performances in globally-recognized slam competitions and prestigiously-awarded literature, but she still finds time for mentoring children and [...]
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Poet / Performance Artist / Healer

There’s a certain metamorphosis that occurs after the longevity of sorrow. It’s a metamorphosis through which poet Barbara Fant has transfigured and has lived to tell. Fant’s words have floated through illuminating performances in globally-recognized slam competitions and prestigiously-awarded literature, but she still finds time for mentoring children and providing ministry through poetry.
But right now, studying comes first. Pursuing an MFA program at Antioch University, Fant divides her time between Los Angeles and Columbus, all while being a voice in citywide promotions for I, Too, Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100. Through her revelations of the past and her eyes ahead on what’s to come, Barbara Fant’s story is still writing itself.

The first time I saw you perform was at Urban Spirit about ten years ago. What I remember most was that your eye contact with the audience was as gripping as the piece. What goes into practicing your performance?

Barbara Fant: I always say that I found poetry when I was really young, and then when I was fifteen, poetry found me. I lost my mom when I was younger and I was kind of an angry teenager, so I didn’t really know how to talk to people. I started writing, it was my way of prayer, it was my language, it was my communication. When I was in high school […] I saw Sunni Patterson. She’s a poet out of New Orleans and I was like “Oh my goodness, I wanna do what she does.” When I came to Columbus, I said I was gonna find an open mic and get on stage. I ended up at Black Pearl Poetry which was a spot that Ed Mabrey used to run, and [poet] Will Evans slammed through that scene…. Will and I became good friends. When it was 2008, [it] was the first Women of the World Poetry Slam, and they needed women to compete. Will was like, “Barbara, I need you to slam” and I was like, “What? You’re crazy, no way.” So, I did and I went to the first-ever Women of the World Poetry Slam, and that’s when I started performing. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I perform a lot, but I also do open mics as my practice. I got used to performing a lot in the mirror, like, looking myself in the eye, then when I got on stage, I’d be able to look other people in the eye.

Is there anything specific that you want your audience to mentally unpack when they listen to you?

BF: My writing in the past has been a lot about spirituality, and now I deal with a lot of trauma and things that I’ve experienced in my childhood that I didn’t really know were traumatic. What I hope that people—I guess—unpack is that I really just want them to be able to see themselves in a piece of it. I hope I give people the space to be able to find themselves in the work, in a way, or feel that they can now tell their stories because I was able to tell mine.

“The poetry scene is constantly growing and developing. It’s a place where I can really do my work, hone in on my voice, and still see a national scene, but have a community, a grassroots, a place to come back home to.”

Have you ever had someone in the audience, or someone that’s heard you, approach you very emotionally after you did a piece?

BF: Yeah, that actually happens to me a lot. (laughs) And, I don’t know if that’s because my work is sad or what. People usually want to hug me or something after. People will come up to me, like, “Can I give you a hug? Can I just hug you?” I don’t really know what all that is, but yet, people do approach me emotionally a lot. I’ve kinda gotten used to it now. •
“I think for so long, black women’s voices have been silenced, and I think the only way that we break through any kind of false narrative is to keep speaking our truth.”

You’re originally from Youngstown and moved to Columbus to attend Ohio Dominican University. After winning so many national competitions, what made you stay in Columbus?

BF: I decided to stay in Columbus because ultimately at the time, I was serving at a local fellowship. That fellowship isn’t in existence anymore, but I was serving there under a pastor who was walking me through the ordination process. I went to seminary after I got my degree, and the reason I went to seminary was to become a prison chaplain…. I ultimately didn’t go that route, but part of my staying in Columbus was because I was back in school. I’ve had a really good community in Columbus, and I still do. The poetry scene is constantly growing and developing. It’s a place where I can really do my work, hone in on my voice, and still see a national scene, but have a community, a grassroots, a place to come back home to.

Did you face some challenges balancing being mentored by a pastor, wanting to be in the religious field and performing poetry?

BF: Well, interestingly enough, when I was in undergrad, I got a call from a pastor out of the blue, and her name is Yvonne Gilmore. I ended up going to her church and she is actually the one who became my mentor. She was in a group called The Cornel West Theory, so not only was she a poet, but she’s a black woman who was also in a pastoral role, started a new church and, you know, she’s a black woman. I grew up not even realizing that women could be pastors, my father told me that was not possible, that they weren’t supposed to, and here is this black woman in a pulpit, and she’s doing her art. So for me, being able to meet her just showed me a new world. It was like, “Oh, it’s possible.” I’ve never considered myself a “Christian poet,” but I always considered myself a poet who is a Christian.

What similarities do you see within the children that you’ve taught at ArtSafe and Transit Arts? Have both experiences compared to your youth?

BF: ArtSafe was such a great organization. We took art into juvenile correctional facilities and that helped me fall in love with that space. I’m still really-really connected and feel a strong call to be in that space with individuals who are incarcerated. I think that is because I saw myself in a lot of those youths; I realized it could’ve been me. I was really empowered in that space…. I think because I’ve lived the life that I’ve had, I connect with people who have really deep, traumatic experiences.

What are some practices that new poets should implement to enhance their craft?

BF: With my kids, […] they love the arts. Some of them are more advanced that others, but most of them are entry-level writers. What I work with them a lot on is introducing them to new writers and new ways to tell their story. I do a lot of introductory poetry exercises and teaching them different styles of poems, like letting them know that it doesn’t all have to be a sonnet, or it doesn’t all have to be free verse. There’s different ways to tell your story. We work a lot with introductory metaphors and similes–all the poetic tools you would think of for how to build a poem.

How can black women define themselves in a time when we’re often misconstrued?

BF: I think one of the ways to do that is to keep speaking. It’s probably a really simple answer, but for me personally, I’m oftentimes in an all-white space, and the only thing that helps me continue to define myself is to keep speaking and to keep being and to not let my voice be silenced. I think for so long, black women’s voices have been silenced, and I think the only way that we break through any kind of false narrative is to keep speaking our truth. That’s something that I do and I work to uplift the voices of other women because I think that there’s power in that. People won’t know it unless we tell it. Only we can tell our stories.

Barbara Fant will lead a 2-hour performance poetry workshop on January 23rd as part of a poetry slam competition co-sponsored by The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts and The Columbus Foundation.

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Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

614now Staff

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Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

https://twitter.com/mariawsyx6/status/1228415062051819520?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fabc6onyourside.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Fformer-ohio-state-nfl-running-back-opens-new-chapter-as-a-columbus-firefighter

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper

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Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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Arts & Culture

The Interview Issue: Author Saeed Jones

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Saeed Jones has traveled across the country promoting his new memoir and chosen Columbus for his own next chapter.

Author and new Columbus transplant Saeed Jones finally has a break after wrapping up his 16-city tour to promote his new memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. It’s a book that isn’t solely about his past, but is designed as an earnest conversation with readers. The book succeeds Jones’ previous poetry collections and a stint as Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, and is already receiving numerous honors and highly- publicized acclaim.

“It took a long time to write the book, almost a decade. So, I had a lot of time to think about writing it [being] one thing, but when you publish it, it becomes something different. I tried not to think so much about other people and the audience, but I think I trusted that if I could write to myself sincerely [and] candidly, that would be a bridge for other people,” he said. “It’s like you’re encountering someone when they just had a transformative experience. Something that’s really important for me in my writing is the cost of silence and the ways we silence ourselves. I think it’s powerful—as a writer, with the fortune I’ve had in my career—for people to be like, ‘I’m going through it’, and for me to be one more person who goes, ‘Me too.’”

Though some authors intend to tell their stories later in life, Jones wanted to focus his story on the time period from his upbringing in Texas through his mid-twenties to capture a specific ethos that informed his narrative. Concerned that segments of his life would become deemed irrelevant to readers, he found the immediacy of the news sparked him to publish the book sooner than later. Soon after Jones considered writing in detail about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which shifted the LGBTQ+ conversation, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred.

“Whenever I would get a little hard on myself about the book’s intentions, it felt like America would go, ‘We gotta do this now,’” Jones said. ”Everything’s not perfect but a lot has changed from 1998. [While writing,] I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be a perfect book, but it’s gonna be the book that I want and need now.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After his mother’s passing in 2011, Jones is attentive to their relationship in How We Fight for Our Lives, endearingly dedicating the book to her even after a moment of uncertainty that occurred when he came out. In spite of having a vibrant relationship with his mother, Jones jokes that the two weren’t able to naturally discuss sexuality. Promoting the memoir before Thanksgiving, Jones mentions that some LGBTQ+ readers confided in him about their own awkward conversations with family.

“Sure, it’s important for us to write about clear and present danger, whether that’s police brutality, homophobic or racially-driven violence, [but] I think that it’s also important for us to pay attention to the more subtle hurts that come to define us. Sometimes those hurts are a result of failings; loved ones who just can’t support us because they’re like ‘I don’t get it’ and they kind of give up,” he said. “My mom was working two jobs, so a lot of times she was just tired. She was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t have a heartfelt conversation today, I gotta go to my second job.’ That had an impact on me, and I know that has an impact on a lot of other people in those moments. In any meaningful, long-lasting relationships—certainly family relationships—it is going to be complicated. If you don’t have multiple colors in how you’re thinking about that relationship, the truth is that something is being deadened, something is being intentionally or unintentionally ignored or silenced.”

An avid reader of works by Margaret Atwood and Audre Lorde, Jones recognizes a similar urgency from his memoir through his influence James Baldwin, admitting to reading his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room repeatedly, revisiting it at different points of his life to gain a new perspective. Identifying with different characters each time, Jones focused essentially on Baldwin’s deconstruction of queerness and social dynamics, which intersected American politics with racial identity. “[Baldwin] wasn’t going to pretend that there was this monolithic Blackness. He wasn’t just going to pretend that there weren’t Black men—who he was advocating for in terms of civil rights— who weren’t homophobic. He was like ‘We’re gonna do all this together’” Jones said. “He’s drawing from his background in Christianity, but he’s changed; he’s not practicing his faith in the same way. He [was] just doing a very good job of showing how we’re in flux and that it’s natural and better to embrace that. I feel like that set me up to start paying attention.”

Habitually enthusiastic about settling in Columbus (or what he calls “the promised land”), Jones speaks gleefully about The Great Migration and Ohio boasting essential Black authors—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Woodson, Hanif Abdurraqib and Toni Morrison. While he notes that Black authors have thrived

in Ohio through a formidable writing scene, in How We Fight for Our Lives, Jones touches keenly on the fragility of Black life. Days prior to our conversation marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Julius Tate, who was shot by Columbus police during a sting operation.

“If we’re able to villainize people we have wronged—and Julius was certainly wronged—it eases the rhetoric of brushing the wrong aside,” Jones said. “It happens so often and so much of our culture grooms all of us to move on. I’m not the one to say what justice for Julius and for Black people impacted by that violence looks like, but I would love to hear it. I have no interest in telling people to be quiet. I’m a writer, so I think a lot about editing and revision, and how you polish and the drafts you don’t want people to see. Cities are text, too.”

While Columbus continues to be a work in progress through systematic tensions, Jones is embracing the city’s tangible LGBTQ+ scene after residing in New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco. In support of the Black Queer & Intersectional Collective, he attended the Columbus March for Black Trans Women in November, where he felt a sense of cohesiveness within the city. “I feel like the march was a great example of waking me up—unsurprisingly, it’s easier for cisgender gay men to live and feel embraced here than Black trans women in Columbus,” Jones said. “The stakes are high, but it feels possible. Here it feels like, ‘start reading up, go to that march, talk to people,’ as opposed to ‘here’s the finished story.’”

With a story far from over, Jones reveals that his next life work is to write about joy to balance the scales with his past struggle within How We Fight for Our Lives. Avidly writing about pain and loss, he vows to dabble into more written frameworks outside of his comfort zone. “I feel like I’ve written about myself so damn much, maybe learning to write in other forms—fiction—would be fun. I want to learn more, I feel that’s when I’m most alive, when I’m learning and realizing that I’m learning,” he said. “That’s when I feel fully present as a person, not when I think I know the beginning, middle and end.”

Follow Saeed Jones on Twitter and Instagram at @theferocity.

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