Dwayne Morgan began his career as a spoken word artist in 1993. In 1994, he founded Up From The Roots entertainment, to promote the positive artistic contributions of African Canadian and urban influenced artists. Dubbed by his peers as “The Godfather of Spoken Word,” Dwayne Morgan has been a spoken word community-builder for years. He tours schools and communities extensively, and with support from the York Region District School Board, he created Ontario’s first school poetry slam league! Morgan is the 2018 winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award, and a former candidate in the 2018 Provincial Election. In 2016, Morgan was a finalist for the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 2013, Morgan was inducted in to the Scarborough Walk of Fame.
Dwayne spoke with us about how spoken word poetry has evolved over the course of his expansive career, resisting the marginalization of spoken word poets within the literary community, and engaging youth in spoken word.
League of Canadian Poets: How did spoken word poetry become part of your life?
Dwayne Morgan: When I first started writing and performing, ‘spoken word’ wasn’t even a term that was used. I wrote a poem for a high school assembly. After performing the poem, a couple of women who heard the poem took an interest in me, and started inviting me out to events in the community. Once I started to get busy, I had to write more poems, and those were the humble beginnings to what has been a twenty-five year career at this point.
LCP: Who are some of your biggest artistic influences (of any genre)?
DM: I’ve always been inspired by legends like Madonna, Prince, and Bob Marley. In the world of performance poetry my influences have included Black Katt, Lillian Allen, Little X, Sheri-D Wilson, Jemeni, Jamaal St. John, and Ian Keteku. There are really too many to list, but these are the first that come to mind.
LCP: You’re about to celebrate 25 years on the stage as a spoken word poet! In what ways have you seen spoken word poetry evolve over this time (within your community and on the world’s stage)?
DM: Over the past 25 years, I’ve lived through the evolution and popularity of spoken word. The biggest change that I’ve seen, and been a part of, is the rise of the poetry slam. Since 1998, when I started my slam series, I’ve watched slams grow across the country, and I’ve performed in, and helped to launch slams across North America and Europe. At this point, I have performed in 18 countries, and it’s been amazing to see how spoken word and slams, have been embraced internationally, and the cultural differences in how they fit in to societal norms.
LCP: Through your initiatives Up From The Roots and When Brothers Speak you create space and opportunity for spoken word poets in your community. When your career was beginning, what supports were meaningful for you?
DM: When I started my career, there were few supports. Spoken word poets weren’t accepted in to the League, and there were no funding programs specific to what we were doing. As artists we were shunned and not welcome at a lot of poetry readings and open mics, which created an environment where I had to build the things that I needed. Open mics, readings, slams, and concerts were all created to make space for myself, and those who couldn’t find it elsewhere.
LCP: You do a lot of work with youth in schools and in your community. What ways can youth benefit from listening to and performing spoken word poetry?
DM: Spoken word is accessible to young people. They see the freedom in being able to articulate themselves, and have people listen to them. There isn’t money and years of lessons involved, so everyone can participate. I have worked with school boards to integrate spoken word initiatives, and seen how kids embrace the art form, as a valuable means of self expression.
LCP: What are you currently reading?
DM: Right now I am reading, I Hear She’s A Real Bitch by Jen Agg.
Watch Dwayne’s performance of “We Are the Ones”:
Dwayne Morgan is the recipient of the 2018 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. This annual award was created by Sheri-D Wilson – a pioneer of spoken word poetry in Canada – to honour a Canadian spoken word artist who had made a substantial contribution to the development of spoken word, through the originality and excellence of their performance works and through involvement in – and contributions to – the expansion of the spoken word community. The 2018 iteration of the award was given in recognition of Lifetime Achievement in spoken word poetry.
To learn more about the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award and see how it is evolving to fit the needs of the spoken word community, visit poets.ca/goldenberet.