New Orleans Poet Sunni Patterson Performs at O, Miami

O, Miami, my Miami! Okay, so we're no Walt Whitman. But the poets who are taking their words to the streets during the month of April for O, Miami might be.


One of the poets regaling us Miami folk with her wit and wisdom is New Orleans artist Sunni Patterson. She's been featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam so you know she's the real deal.

Patterson has also spoken her soul at the Pan African culture festival, Panafest, in West Africa, and has sung lead vocals for renowned trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe.


Sunni's not all arts and crafts though. She is a certified Chi King and Tai Chi instructor. We tried to get her to teach us a few moves, but to no avail.

We had the chance to chat with the ebony enchantress. Check the cut for our Q&A and a video of her amazing Def Poetry Jam performance.


New Times: How did you start performing spoken word?

Sunni Patterson: I've been writing since I was a little girl. Writing everything from poetry, short stories, and speeches. It wasn't until I graduated from high school that I truly developed a greater love for the spoken word genre. In college [at] Tuskegee University, it grew stronger. Upon graduating college, I taught high school full time, but still participated in the spoken word scene and poetry slams. When hurricane Katrina hit, I was still teaching at an independent school, but it afforded me the opportunity to travel, learn, teach, and share the art, spirit, and activism of spoken word.

As a New Orleans native, how did you feel after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans?

I'm from an area in New Orleans called the 9th ward, which was one of the most devastated parts of the city. I literally had two dresses and one pair of shoes left. It's still very hard to deal with. It's never easy seeing suffering or depression or murder. I wasn't in the city when the storm hit, but to watch it over the TV knowing your house is underwater is beyond imagination, unless you too have lost all you've known or owned. But, thanks be to God, there are angels -- people who came to help ease the load. 

Do you find that there is a difference in the way that spoken word is received depending on the region of the U.S. you are performing in?

Not really. It's energy. It's being able to connect with people on a spirit level. That goes beyond region, city, or state.

Tell us about Tai Chi. Does it help you as an artist?

Tai Chi is all about centering and grounding -- about breath. It certainly helps as an artist. Especially as a traveling artist and mother. My son, who is almost 2 years old, travels everywhere with me. So, it helps when you are called to move all across the U.S. with baby boy in tow. I need grounding for both of us to be able to put my best self forward when speaking and sharing with people, not to mention teaching abc's and colors and numbers in the process.

Your website states that you are a "mouth piece for the Ancestors." Can you elaborate on that?

I was taught that it's humility that paves the way...to always remember and honor those who came before. We are all reminders to one another. My art is used to remind us of our light. To inspire within people the creative ability to move. To tell the story of struggle and victory. To bring light to the injustices that plague our communities, and the atrocities that bind us through out the world...and at the same time give a word of hope. To encourage people to re-member and acknowledge the spark that is inherent in everyone and everything.

Are you excited about O, Miami? Have you been here before?

Yes, I've been to Miami many times. As a matter of fact, Miami is the first place I came to perform after the storm. The spoken word and poetry community of Miami helped me more than any government agency or the Red Cross ever did. I always look forward to coming to Miami because it's family. Now here with Tigertail Productions and WordSpeak is a big blessing. To have the opportunity to visit the high schools and interact with the amazing youth is always a joy.

Sunni Patterson will perform her spoken word at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables) 8 p.m. tomorrow for Tigertail WordSpeak as part of O, Miami. Admission is free. Visit booksandbooks.com. Patterson will also be leading an open mike for teens at the Miami Beach Regional Library (227 22nd St., Miami Beach). The slam starts at 6 p.m. and admission is free. 

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