Nicole M. Young-Martin is a performance poet, playwright and author with over 20 years of experience building her different creative practices. Young-Martin’s most recent venture is a web series called “Black Writers Read.”
Born out of a virtual event during the pandemic, the series provides a platform to showcase, celebrate, and honor the work of Black writers locally and nationwide.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Young-Martin to learn more about this new series and her career across various creative disciplines.
This segment originally aired on April 28, 2022.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Performance poet, playwright, and author Nicole M. Young-Martin has over 20 years of experience building her different creative practices, and her latest venture is a web series called Black Writers Read.
Born out of a virtual event early in the pandemic, the series provides a platform to showcase, celebrate, and honor the work of Black writers, both locally and nationwide.
I spoke with Young-Martin to learn more about this new series and her career across various creative disciplines.
Nicole M. Young-Martin, Black Writers Read: My writing career was born in Western Mass. I came to the area and working in theater and music and how I ended up getting and writing, a mentor of mine was like, “You’re just — you just moved to the area.”
I came in my late twenties. Most people in the area were either college students or married, working professionals, a little bit older. So, she was like, “In order to get to know people quicker, join this writing group.”
And I’m like, “I’ve never done creative writing before!” So, I joined the group, and the writer was born there.
Zydalis Bauer: And let’s touch on that, because you mentioned it briefly. You discovered your passion for writing a little later in life, and you’ve gone on to write award-winning plays, poetry. You’ve served as editor of the chapbook anthology “Locating Me.”
Why did writing speak to you and what do you see as the purpose of your writing?
Nicole M. Young-Martin: Yeah, so the reason why writing spoke to me is…it became a platform to really talk about my personal experience.
So first, the writer in me that was born talked about my personal experience, and from there I’m able to coach people to talk about their own. So, as a writing instructor and leading writing workshops, I’m like, “There is power in the personal story.”
So, I lead people in terms of how they can gain confidence through sharing their personal story through writing. But writing is so powerful. Like, I’ve had people who have said to me, “Oh, I’m not a creative writer. I don’t do poetry because poetry is this thing.”
And I’m like, “But poetry is not this thing, poetry is what you make of it.”
And the writing prompts that I take people through, they’re like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize this facet of myself.”
Like, there’s a writing prompt that I do in some of my writing workshops where I ask people to write a letter to their younger self. And just the things that they realize about their life and their growth in that moment.
And I’m like, “Yes!” And writing…it’s one of those few times where we get to really spend time with ourselves and really reflect on the growth that we’ve had, our communities, and things like that.
So, writing can be very powerful.
Zydalis Bauer: Well, I completely agree, I think everybody should have that chance to be able to share their personal story. And you do that a lot. A lot of your writing is is autobiographical.
I mean, how is that for you revisiting some of these past experiences? Like, is there ever a level of vulnerability and hesitation you have with sharing your personal stories?
Nicole M. Young-Martin: Oh, my gosh! It’s such a great question!
I am — I’ve been working on this for a while now, a memoir on dating. And it has since gone on hold since I’ve gotten married and haven’t had those like trials and tribulations of dating. And some of the vulnerability in that writing is not necessarily about me, but it’s about…like how — what I’ve done has impacted other people or vice versa.
So, I get very vulnerable about relationships and writing about how other people influence me, because I one, don’t want anyone to come after me with a lawsuit, but also, two, I want to honor the fact that it is the story from my point of view. And when I’m writing that person is not able to share their story. So, I have to dance around a little bit in terms of what I share, from changing names to fictionalizing the story and things like that.
And then, when it comes to writing, personally, I think because I grew up as an only child, my brother and I were like 15 years apart. So, we grew up as only children. And my parents were not the ones who were…you’re seen and not heard. My parents are like, “No, we need you to talk.” We need, you know. So, I became this very boisterous child who always took the stage.
So, me sharing personal things about myself — sometimes people say, “You’re too much of an open book” — but when it comes to talking about relationships and other people, I get really vulnerable because I’m just like, they are not here to contribute to the narrative.
Zydalis Bauer: That’s such a great point. I love that point. There’s another initiative that you’ve been working on. The pandemic has brought a lot of challenges for people, but it’s also brought a lot of opportunity. And in June 2020, you hosted a virtual event that convened 16 Black writers, countrywide, to talk about their experiences.
So, what was your vision behind creating this event and how has that grown since the initial gathering?
Nicole M. Young-Martin: Ah! You have so many great questions. So, Black Writers Read how it came about, at the time, Trump was looking to host a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19 of that year, which is the anniversary of a huge massacre where Black businesses and Black people were murdered and I think, like, 1921 or something like that. And he was doing it in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Myself and a couple of my writing colleagues were tagged on a post on Facebook. And many people know us as activists and they’re like, “Can you do something? Because this is just very disrespectful.”
And I’m like, “Okay, what can I do in, like a week’s time?” Because this post came out a week before Juneteenth and I’m like, “What can I do in a week?”
I am really good at putting on events and convening people virtually. So I put a call out, I posted on Facebook, social media, and I said, “Everyone just send this out.”
And what happened, I actually got more than 16 writers to apply to read that evening, but I was like, “Okay, we’re going to this event is going to be over 3 hours. There’s virtual — there’s just no way we’re going to be able to book everyone that night.”
And given the — the impact that event had and the number of people we weren’t able to engage that evening, it turned into monthly Web series, Black Writers Read, which officially launched in September of 2020. And how it’s grown now we’re now in season two, and originally it was just going to live like on YouTube and Facebook as a live stream.
I was recently approached by a literary publicist who has in her coffer, like, a slate of writers that she wants to have me interview before their books are published. And it’s so many people and I’m like, “Okay, what can I do with this now?” And I’m like, “Audio podcast!” So I’m now adding an audio podcast.
We now feature writers from around the globe. I actually am booking someone who I think is based in Guyana. I booked someone who is based in Portugal and I also got inquiries from people who are in the UK.
Zydalis Bauer: Well and Black Writers Read really — is a really great example of one of your initiatives that fosters the talents of other creative individuals. And you — you’ve done that a lot throughout your career.
You had proceeds from your debut spoken word album “Input Live from the Valley” that created a fellowship program for women and non-binary writers of color. And then you just have this grown this Black Writers Read podcasts and series.
So, why is community and collaboration so important to you?
Nicole M. Young-Martin: I wouldn’t be an artist if it weren’t for community and collaboration. There are so many local artists — like, for example, Diana Alvarez, Jason Montgomery, Priscilla Page — if it weren’t for their mentorship and them pushing me to do what I do, I wouldn’t be here.
And so because of that, it’s the whole kind of panning for it. It’s like, I need to create other opportunities for other people. And then also, too, in other industries because I worked in theater and music prior, those are so hard to break into and the pipelines are intense. And even as a writer, the mainstream pipelines in terms of getting published and things like that are intense and I experience those myself with what I’m trying to do is, is eliminate the barriers that most people experience when they want exposure to their work.
So essentially, I’m — I’m trying to chisel through the concrete ceiling to open opportunities for other people.
Zydalis Bauer: And then lastly, having been a part of so many different creative initiatives, you wear so many hats, poet, playwright, educator, actor. I could keep going on, there’s so many that I’ve left out.
What is something that you haven’t done that you really are interested in getting into?
Nicole M. Young-Martin: Oh, I would love to go into filmmaking. I love the power of cinematic storytelling. I would love to be able to do a documentary.
I have so many ideas in my little, like, my little hat that I want to do. It’s just something about the power and, like, and accessibility of film. I really, I really want to get into filmmaking at some point, but also, too, given that I like to have my hand in so many pots, I, you know, I need to learn cinematography. I need to learn sound editing, scriptwriting I think I can do, and directing.
So, I’m hoping to venture down the head journey at some point in my career.