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October 12, 2016

Artist in Residence Spotlight: The Contrary at Michigan


qiana townsThis post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence

Qiana Towns’s work has appeared in Harvard Review Online, Crab Orchard Review, and Reverie. A Cave Canem graduate, Towns received the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She is a resident of Flint, where she serves as Community Outreach Coordinator for Bottles for the Babies, a grassroots organization created to support and educate the residents of Flint during the water crisis.

…there was one time when the Chair of the English department forbade me from showing Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou in class. Guess what happened next?

I have always been what my grandmother called mouthy. The ‘yes, I heard you say no more questions, but I have another question’ type, one with a strong will and strong mind. I am like my mother—the woman who introduced me to the arts even before I exited her womb. She told me to make something of myself, so I did.

I made myself a force to be reckoned with: Woman. Bad ass. Academic. Poet. Advocate. Friend. Mother. Good girl. Artist.


I am drawn to art that reflects the dissimilarities in my personality, and art that exposes the oddity in every living thing. And the dead things, too.

Like macadam, all of the pieces of me fit together and are simultaneously broken. I am split into pieces and these pieces make the road that led me here, to UMS’s Renegade Artist-in-Residence program.

I first thought to myself, Renegade? At the University of Michigan? How contrary.

Just like me.

As I perused the list of shows I thought about how RENEGADE might inspire new roads and offer fresh wombs to birth work in mediums I’ve not yet explored.

I am interested in the ways humans function in different spaces as well as how personal identities contribute to individual and collective successes and failures.

Truthfully, I have a lot of questions. Each morning, I awake with a head full of questions. Poetry provides the space to consider all of the possible answers, which is not to say I am interested in the “answers.” My greatest joy is the pursuit.

Most significantly, my work is influenced by and dedicated to the marginalized and the disenfranchised. It explores the quiet corners where voiceless citizens gather to forge unbreakable bonds. I hear them. I am—on some level—them. My poems are often concerned with environments and how environs speak to the conditions of our lives and society at large. Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” was the first poem I ever committed to memory. I was three years old; my mother would recite the poem daily as she rehearsed for a localhttp://artists in residence stage production. Five years after she passed on, it became my mantra and the thread that bound me to her and to poetry.

Follow this blog for more from our artists in residence as they attend Renegade performances this season.