From self-doubt to self-celebration, in this Q & A, young adult writer and activist, AJ Addae shares the multi-dimensional complexity that comes with being, not only a human, but an artist.
I’ve always had a strong connection to art. As a child, this meant performing: on the school’s cafeteria stage, a grand auditorium, and most frequently, in front of the living room fireplace. Fast forward a few years or so, early adolescent Chloe found herself exploring new mediums of artistry, spending Saturdays binge watching independent films or making spontaneous trips down to the art museum. Sophomore year, I ventured into a world of online blogging, which slowly morphed, from a hobby, into a dream career. Now, at 17, I truly believe that it is my calling to be a journalist for news media, hoping to positively impact a transforming field.
Many will dream to become an artist, however, with growing age, a society fixed on money, status, and perfection, stands by, as these, once so passionate and promising dreams, begin to die away. Whether it be external pressure from our peers to find a “real job”, or the crushing weight of student loans, and never-ending bills, with hardship, artistry fades. Some, will persist on, and to these brave artists, our society remains truly ended-ted.
Cleansing our minds and souls, connecting us to people we’ve never met and places we will never go, and most importantly, stirring our thoughts, and calling us to make change, artists are the true revolutionaries of their time. Artists are something to celebrate.
Meet AJ Addae
AJ Addae is a 17 year old writer, with a heart for literature, and and an even larger heart for activism. Producing her own magazine, The Gray Area, snatching an internship with Frisco STYLE Magazine, and self-publishing a book of poetry, Forget Me Knots, all within her senior year of high school, AJ Addae serves as an inspiration to myself and young artists everywhere, proving that age equals not wisdom, nor success.
Currently, a student at Northeastern University, in Boston, pursuing literary writing and women studies, AJ continues to create and share her writing, focusing on topics such as art, politics, the human experience, woman hood, and what it means to be a woman of color.
Below is the un-cut, un-edited Q&A.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I’ve always felt like I’m good at thinking. I’m good at putting thoughts together, really good at communicating those thoughts, and I think about big concepts like being human and art and politics, what it’s like to be a woman, girl hood, the intersections of girlhood in my country. I feel like I have so much to say. Having so much to say combined with thinking well, combined with being able to write, I thought, you know what, I should really put my thoughts out. My English teacher told me something this semester. She said, “AJ, you know that quote ‘everyone is entitled to their own opinion’? I feel like everyone’s entitled to your opinion. That really summarizes why I have all these mediums in which I write.
I feel like I have so much to say…
Q: What do you feel is your purpose, as a writer?
A: As a black woman, especially as a dark woman, especially as a dark women with all these identity intersections, I don’t really see a lot of people like me. When I modeled for this beauty brand, they would post pictures of me on their Instagram, and people would say things like “Wow, you never see dark women.” “You never see dark slim women.”
Everyone has this expectation for black women to be super curvy. Everyone has this expectation for the leader of a movement to be white, or a male, and that’s a really surface level way of describing what my purpose is, but when people think women, they think of white women as the standard, or they think of someone of higher class as the standard. People don’t really know that, at the end of the day, there’s so many voices out there, and we don’t hear any of them. I feel like my purpose comes from that in being that I can be the representation for other people and, at the same time, letting everyone know that it’s okay to be human is a big thing that I focus on in my writing.
Q:What do you believe makes you an individual?
A: Well, I feel like when I first realized that I want to write was when I was a wee girl, and I just had a fascination with words. I would sleep with the dictionary under my pillow just to memorize more words. I started a wiki how page, when I was 8 about beauty blogging, and I got like hundred thousands of views, like for what? I was 8.
I have always been good at thinking.
One thing that I realized, from having this fascination with words, is that it really expresses something that I find myself to be saying a lot to people- it’s okay to be human. I don’t think people know that. A lot of people come to me for advice and ask, “is it wrong that I feel this way? Is it wrong that I feel this or that?” It’s not wrong to feel. I’m an extremely emotional person. Extremely emotional. A lot of people don’t embrace that, and by saying that it’s okay to be human, I feel like I’m embracing that.
There’s so many voices out there, and we don’t get to here any of them.
Embracing the human aspect of myself is one of the best things I’ve ever done for anyone and for myself. I often find that a lot of good things came from that like finding out that, as a woman, I am under no obligation to be beautiful, and as a black woman, I’m under no obligation to fit the narratives that society poses onto me. Being human is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done for myself.
Q:How have you seen individuality grant you power?
A: In the South, people are weird. People say hi to you, even if they don’t know you. Living in the northeast has made me realize, I’m really out here! I’m on my own. Often times, people say be nice to everyone; be nice to everyone you love, but they forget to tell you that you should be someone that you love too, and once I realized that, it was over for y’all…
I’ve been really focused on identifying with my authenticity. People like music, for example, and I often wonder, do I like the music that I like because of what I’ve been told is cool and told is not cool, or am I being authentic to myself? Not just with music, but with everything, I’ve found that authenticity has really granted me my own power in that I get to tell other people, “No. The way that you are is how you are” and that’s where it starts and ends.
Authenticity is a really big thing to me, especially for my art. I feel like there’s so many stories to tell just through the principle of authenticity and it’s granted me power in that it empowers other people. It’s empowered myself. It’s made me un-apologetic for who I am.
Embracing the human aspect of myself is one of the best things I’ve ever done for anyone and for myself.
Q:I best embrace my potential and power when _____________.
A: Zora Neale Hurston once said that “I often feel the most colored when placed against a white background.” That really completes the sentence, because I feel the most like my own identity, when placed upon a white background, whatever that may mean. Northeastern is a PWI which is a greaaat experience. Frisco is a PWI in itself, so I really found that I embrace my potential more when I’m placed against a white background, period. Regardless, whether its a bunch of white people or a place where people aren’t really in tune with their own identities, I feel the most empowered when I stick out. Often times, I find myself sticking out, so I have no choice but to embrace myself, and I think it’s a really beautiful thing because I learn more and more about myself everyday, when I am placed against a white background. I’m never within my comfort zone, which is really good for me.
I often feel the most colored when placed against a white background.” – Zora Neale Hurtson
Q:How do you overcome the fears and doubts that come with being a young artist?
A: I feel like I can do anything. I’ve always felt like that. I’ve never thought, “when I grow up…” No. I’m here now. I might as well write a book, while I’m alive. There is no “when I grow up”.
The only thing is that insecurities are a thing, and often times, it’s easy to look at other people’s art and think, “Wow. they’re doing that, and I’m not doing anything”, but that’s not true. I am doing things, and not just me. Everyone is an artist in their own way. Even if you’re not an artist, that’s your identity. If you feel like you can’t put color down on paper, you can’t put words down on paper, you can’t put a film together, that’s fine. Everybody is okay in their own way, and owning my okayness is so important. I can draw, but I can’t do portraits, and stuff like that, but owning my okayness is a really really big thing that I had to learn in 2017. I ran track, and I was really good at it. Then I got to high school and I started competing with bigger districts, and I could only run so fast. I’m still good at it. There are people who are gonna run faster than me, and I’m still a fast runner.
Q: As a young artist, have you ever had an “I don’t know what I’m doing” moment?
A: Oh definitely. All the time… all the [freaking] time. I actually never know what I’m doing, and I know it seems like I do, but I don’t. Nobody actually knows what they’re doing , so that makes me feel even more confident, because nobody knows what they’re doing, but I’ve had moments like that.
Owning my okayness is so important.
When I started out with Frisco STYLE Magazine, I didn’t know if I was able to put my own voice into it. Writing to be consumable, versus writing to be proud of yourself- those are two completely different things to me, and I’m still trying to find myself, meeting myself in the middle, because I’m always going to have an audience. Frank Ocean is so [freaking] cool in that, he makes art for himself and he dips. That’s what I’m trying to do. Writing for Frisco STYLE has made me realize that there is a threshold that I have to cross, in terms of writing to be consumed versus writing to be proud of my own art. Audiences vary all the time so that’s my safety net, in that I know that there’s going to be somebody looking at my work that can identity with it, and that’s what I’m writing for.
Q: You’ve managed to expand your skill set, as a writer, into so many different facets. Do you find yourself preferring to write opinion based pieces, such as editorials and self narratives, or traditional news content?
A: Definitely opinions. It depends on what the news is. Writing for the newspaper is great and all, but I can’t put too much of my voice in it. At the end of the day, my voice is always going to be there, and that’a a satisfying feeling, but I can’t put my two cents in there. I love putting my two cents in, but sometimes, it doesn’t need to have my two cents.
Something I’ve also been kind of straddling the line with is my poetry slams. Writing to be read out loud versus to read on paper are two completely different things. When you read things, you apply your own voice onto them, but when you hear me say it, you know that’s AJ. You know it’s my two cents. I started writing so that I could put my voice out there, so I’m gonna feel more comfortable where I can put my voice.
I feel like I can do anything.
Q: Last Question. How does AJ celebrate herself?
A: I celebrate myself by investing in art that looks like me, that feels like me. Sophomore year of high school I went to an all girls private boarding school, in North Carolina. I took this class called Renaissance history, and it was the best thing ever. I love Renaissance art. I love it so much. I went to Italy. I studied all the art and it was so much fun, until I realized a year later that I can’t be investing in art that doesn’t look like me or feel like me, all the time. The more that I consume that, the more I don’t feel okay about myself.
So I went on this detox where I decided… I’m only going to look at art that looks like me. I’m only going to read poetry by marginalized voices. I’m only going to consume art that feels like me, which means I had to cut out Renaissance art, because I don’t look like that. They weren’t painting for me.
I’m gonna feel more comfortable where I can put my voice.
That really helped my art a lot. It made me feel like my art was valid. My words are valid. I stopped reading that poetry they give you in English class about the girl with the long blond hair, because no, that’s not me. It made me feel valid about my art, and at the end of the day, that’s my self-celebration, because I belong here. You know when you’re walking down the street and men won’t move for you? You gotta not move for those men. They’re not there for you. You’re there for you. That’s how I practice my self celebration and validating my art- by looking at other art.
I celebrate myself by looking at art that looks like me, that feels like me.