The Collegian
Monday, August 15, 2022

Renowned poet performs on campus

Sonya Renee Taylor, introduced by sophomore Erik Lampmann as one of the most distinguished, recognizable and accomplished female artists in the world of performance poetry, appeared in front of students Feb. 9 in the Alice Haynes Room.

Taylor is a spoken word artist who currently resides in Washington. She said that she was in her seventh year as a professional fulltime performance artist and that she yearned to create pieces of art that spoke to her spirit.

Lampmann said that he had helped co-organize the event with senior Johanna Gehlbach through fundraising and from the support of the Cultural Affairs Committee. "We were really thrilled to bring her here," he said.

Gehlbach, the president of the Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity (SASD) here at the university and the chief organizer of the event, said that she had first heard of Taylor on Tumblr a year ago. She said that, because of substantial interest within the group, she had emailed Taylor's manager over Christmas break and they had planned for Taylor to fly from Washington to perform for the students.

"She encompasses all aspects of identity," Gehlbach said. "What she does truly is an art form. It isn't picketing or sign waving. It is much more sophisticated and, at the same time, can be really raw and passionate. Spoken word is a way to vent. It is a coping mechanism. There is a mutual understanding between the artist and the audience."

Lampmann said that SASD was the "voice on campus for queer students, faculty and staff and it engaged in activism and programming to make Richmond a more inclusive and progressive community."

He said the goal behind having Taylor perform her poetry at the university had been to "see social justice and specific issues related to queer rights from a different perspective, one that emphasizes creativity and human connection."

In front of a group of approximately 25 students, Taylor recited poems about failed relationships, her history with depression and her childhood insecurities, before answering students' questions. When asked by one student if talking about her depression was too personal, Taylor said there was no such thing and welcomed the question with a smile.

Exactly a year ago, Taylor said that she had created The Body is Not an Apology, a movement toward radical self-love and empowerment.

"The journey to end oppression is choosing to radically love ourselves, which leads to loving humanity," Taylor said. "I want everyone to radically transform their lives and free themselves from shame, pain, trauma and fear. By engaging in the act of honoring and loving ourselves, we give other people permission to do the same. I am blessed and floored to talk to people about this."

Taylor said because she had struggled as a child with insecurities dealing with her hair and being taunted by classmates, she had decided to shave her head.

"It was the craziest thing I have ever done," she said, but she also said she was happy that she did it. After telling the audience this, she took off the wig that she had been wearing up until that point and left it on the side of the stage for the rest of her performance.

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After almost two hours of performing, a standing ovation and multiple hugs and pictures with students, Taylor said that it had been an honor to speak to the students at the University of Richmond.

Gehlbach said Taylor's had been unforgettable. "Sonya's performance tonight really resonated with me because of her ability to address the multiple [matrices] of oppression through raw, truthful statements," Gehlbach said. "As an audience member, I got everything I was hoping for and a whole lot more."

Contact reporter Charlotte Brackett at charlotte.brackett@richmond.edu

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