I recently interviewed Jessa Challa, recent Aquinas College grad, artist, and mapmaker extraordinaire.
What advice do you have for people seeking to grow?
I just got this book, Kiki Palmer’s I Don’t Belong to You. It’s inspired me to think for myself first and not care about what other people think.
When do you feel most confident?
I always feel the best when I’ve accomplished something. Recently, that was on my graduation day. We were a really close group; we still go out for pizza and beer [together]!
Tell me more about your art!
My grandma’s an artist. I always did watercolors with my grandma, and then I’ve recently started doing acrylics.
You have a lot of great friends and people in your life. How do you suggest creating a positive network?
Reach out to your friends and role models. Kiki Palmer was a role model [growing up]. Now, instead of surrounding myself with beautiful people, I surround myself with role models. [Palmer] has videos where she talks about beauty and being yourself.
Also, devote yourself to work on relationships with people rather than [nursing] friendships with fake friends.
My friend, Taniah, will send me quotes, and I’ll forward them on social media because I want to share the confidence and share the advice.
What’s important to you?
Right now, my relationships with friends and family, self-love. I’m very much an activist so I’m learning and participating in different movements. I’m passionate about helping people realize there are opportunities out there for them.
I’m working with the internship coordinator at Aquinas [to help other students find internships that work for them]. People don’t feel like they know about opportunities. It’s important in the Grand Rapids climate that local people – not out-of-state [candidates] – be hired.
On the Pushed OutNPR podcast, one of the guys was saying there’re no jobs downtown, and that’s a lot of people’s perspective on GR. I want people to know they’re meant to be here.
Dominique Christina: poet, champion of slams, acclaimed performer, author of two books (including the first and so far only poetry collection my husband has read in its entirety – high praise indeed). I first saw Dominique perform at the Split This Rock poetry conference in 2016. During her performance, I became convinced that the best spoken word poetry is page poetry, literary poetry. Dominique blended words, alliterations, alchemed magic on the stage, and the audience was enraptured; I know I wasn’t the only person with tears streaming down their face while listening to Dominique detail the terrified escape of a slave across the historic Mason-Dixie line.
Thank you, Dominique, for doing this interview with me! How long have you been writing?
I started writing poetry when I was 22 and in a Creative Writing class in undergrad. That course changed the trajectory of my life. I was forced into a kind of honesty that I didn’t think was available to me. But it was, and once I engaged it, I never looked back. It still took me more than ten years after that to read anything out loud, but it was miraculous for me.
[Since then], I have tried to be a more deliberate writer. I am an accidental poet but not an unintentional one. I am an elegiac poet. I write about those who have died. I feel a responsibility to them… to a great many people. When I first started writing, it was largely autobiographical. And it still is, but there has been a shift in consciousness for me. I am interested [now] in re-fleshing the bones of others.
How do you blend performance poetry and page poetry?
Whatever is excavated from me is excavated, and I make a spur of the moment decision about what I share out loud and what I do not. But I recognize that language is urgent, and it deserves an appropriate reckoning. [I give it] the weight it deserves.
Poems like “I tell her about Jasper Texas” are difficult to read, painful to digest. They’re well-written and convincing enough that I find myself picturing a scene I don’t want to picture. Could you comment on the process of writing this piece and others like it?
There is a nagging in my spirit, in terms of these elegiac poems specifically, but also poems that are largely social commentary; there is a nagging in my spirit that I can’t quiet down. So I wait. I wait on the words to come, and they always do. It feels ancestral. I believe it is ancestral. It’s like falling into the deep. I don’t know if I will hit the bottom. I don’t know if there will be arms to catch me. I don’t know the destination. I just know something in my consciousness needs room to move, so I give it room.
One of my favorite lines from your debut collection, The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm, is “make me wanna curse my own sugar” from “The Shug Avery Mimicry”. How have you dealt with people who don’t support you?
I don’t pay attention to detractors too much. I don’t hold court with them, and I don’t give them relevance. I really mean that – so much so that it is literally erased from my consciousness. I have had to fight to name myself, and I have had to mean my life all my life so I am predisposed to self-resilience. It’s second nature. I don’t expect things to be easy, but I do expect to be victorious. I refuse to hate any part of myself. I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to be silent, and I will never apologize for any of it.
One area we document and celebrate at Hyype is natural beauty, self-esteem, and confidence. We LOVE your naturally beautiful self, especially your hair and fashion.
I wear my hair the way it comes out of my head. I love my hair. I don’t need coaching around that, but I recognize that many of us do need it, and I know why that need exists. I think the natural hair movement is as much about challenging standards of beauty as it is about deep affirmation that we are enough and have always been enough.
Hell yeah. Thank you for the many ways you empower others. What do you consider a highlight from audience and reader reaction to your work?
I am always deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear how the work resonates with others. I am doubled over in gratitude for those who have told me that my work permissioned them to heal. That’s a hallelujah every time.
What are you working on now?
All the things. Branding for Under Armour. Writing for HBO. Traveling. Touring with my sister Rachel McKibbens as Mother Tongue Poetry. Finishing volumes of poetry. Working on an a mixed media art exhibit called The Ruined Woman. All the things.
Mixed media? That sounds promising. I look forward to seeing what you create! What else is important in your life? I believe you’re a mother. How do you balance your writing career with other aspects of life?
I don’t know how I do it. It’s a magic act. But I have a very supportive family. They want me to be in the service of my gifts. I am met with no resistance on that front. Everybody stands back to let me get my crazy done. I’m lucky.
Interview edited for grammar and clarity. Photo credit: DominiqueChristina.com.
I say I’m learning how to love myself because it’s a process, one that will never end. Bodies change. Weight fluctuates, especially if you hate running in cold weather like I do. We age and wrinkle. We can’t always afford the luxury of buying attire we love. We might not have the time to do our nails regularly or put on mascara in the morning. But I love myself, and hopefully you do too, through all of it. Hopefully what I’m wearing isn’t as beautiful as the way I smile and greet others. Hopefully I’m a positive role model for others, someone people want around, because I’m kind and smart and adventurous. Hopefully the me I have to offer is a whole lot more than what I look like. But, it is nice to take some photos in clothes I love once in a while.
Do you live in Michigan or somewhere that I could travel to by car? Let’s do a photo shoot! Let’s talk about non-traditional beauty standards and drink chai tea and smile. Live too far? Send your photos to hyypeonline [at] gmail [dot] com to be featured on Hyype.
Love, as always,
Kelsey May & Jamie
On the model: “Free Your Mind” t-shirt is a Plato’s Closet find, men’s section, size Small.
White chalkboard-style text on black t-shirt is also a Plato’s Closet find, women’s section, size Medium.
Blue scarf is from Goodwill.
Blue anti-Line 5 t-shirt is custom made from Woosah Outfitters.
Bracelet & orange beaded earring from Women At Risk Boutique (check them out FOR SURE, because patronizing an organization that employs / supports previously trafficked women is the best reason to treat yourself to new jewelry and apparel).
Nail polish is from Ella + Mila, a vegan make up and nail polish company.
Shark ring is from Etsy authfashion (one size fits most) and is still in great condition after over a year of owning it.
Happy July!!! It’s a little crazy that we have reached the half-way point in this year, but that’s how life works, right?
Today we will be talking about a blog I stumbled upon called Bold Self.
Recently I’ve stumbled upon this awesome blog. I’m not even sure how I found it, but I did and I’m so happy that I did.
BoldSelf.com is a website/blog dedicated to helping people become more confident and love themselves.
You can join a five-day program to gain some confidence, where every day you get a new challenge. It’s awesome. And if you join the email list, she wants you to reply. And actually sends emails back, making you feel like the best person on the planet.
That is about it for today, but I just wanted to let you know about this awesome website/blog, which is linked below this. If you often find it hard to love yourself or be confident, I would check out this website. Very soon I will also put together a challenge for you wonderful people, so stay tuned.
PSST! Don’t forget to join the Wattpad Writing Contest, linked below, too. Don’t have a Wattpad? Email it to email@example.com
We feel the pain that can – unfortunately – accompany many definitions of “beauty.” You should not have to exist in pain simply to feel beautiful, but confidence is hard to build and often comes as a result of falling down or feeling invalidated by others.
We hope you are able to reach out to important people in your life (relatives, teachers, therapists, friends) for messages of positivity and love. If you struggle with a condition or chronic pain, we hope you feel especially beautiful in your resilience and perseverance.
If you struggle with self image, eating disorders, or bodily harm, consider asking for professional help. You can also contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.