Spotlight: Yolanda Wisher


Hobart Festival of Women Writers is excited to welcome

Yolanda Wisher as a Participating Writer for Festival 2019

Former poet laureate of Philadelphia, Yolanda Wisher not only writes her own powerful poetry that feeds souls but she also works to build platforms for other writers. She educates, and she entertains. She provokes, and she nurtures. For a decade, she has taught English to high school students, inspiring them to reflect on literature and language. She served as Director of Art Education for Philadelphia Mural Arts, founded and directed the Germantown Poetry Festival and Outbound Poetry Festival, and has led workshops and curated events in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the U.S. Department of Arts & Culture. Now, Wisher’s labor of love is as Curator of Spoken Word at Philadelphia Contemporary. Also, she’s one of the first groups of artists with studios at the Cherry Street Pier on the Delaware River Waterfront.


Yolanda Wisher is the author of Monk Eats an Afro as well as the co-editor of Peace is a Haiku Song. She is a Pew and Cave Canem Fellow and was the 2017-2018 CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Formerly, she was a Writer in Residence at Hedgebrook and Aspen Words. The Philadelphia-based curator, educator, spoken word artist, and poet is also in a band called The Afroeaters, which combines song with poetry. For more on Wisher, visit her website at  And whet your appetite for Yolanda Wisher’s piquant poetry “sonnet w/cooking lexicon”

Yolanda Wisher and The Afroeaters

Yolanda Wisher spoke recently with Stephanie Nikolopoulos about her poetry and her work in creating poetry community.


Stephanie Nikolopoulos

SN: Publishers Weekly wrote of your debut book of poetry Monk Eats an Afro: “Womanhood, motherhood, and mentorship are at the forefront, even in the face of death and violence.” What was the writing process and poetry selection process like for this book? Did you set out with a theme, or did the themes emerge?

YW: I worked on the manuscript for years, and it took many forms. It wasn’t until I had a child and starting writing about my experiences with pregnancy and birth that I knew how to finish it. A thematic journey from daughterhood to motherhood emerged as I started to live in and through my body in new, ecstatic and powerful ways.

SN: You are currently the Curator of Spoken Word at Philadelphia Contemporary, which hosts pop-up and site-specific events. What is your vision for bringing poetry to the masses, and what does it have to do with place?

YW: I believe in poetry for the people. I don’t believe that poetry should only be discussed and written on college campuses or academic spaces. I think poetry already exists in public spaces, and my work is often to divine it, show it off, invite it in. I think place and public space are resonant with history and culture, and when I choose a site for a public program, the participants and I enter into a conversation with that history and culture and become part of it in the process. I have a deep awareness of and respect for the power of place to make people feel welcome or unwelcome, unseen or seen.

SN: In addition to being a poet and curator, you’ve also twice been a poet laureate, lead workshops, and are in a band. What tips do you have for those of us who also have a wide variety of passions and projects yet struggle to make time for them all or perhaps make time but then struggle to see any one single project through to completion?

YW: It’s messy and it’s not deep! Sometimes I’m heavy on writing, some months I’m a full-fledged singer, other times I’m a seasonal teaching artist. I try to go with the flow and look for the common threads between all of the work. I try to stay in the flow as much as possible. My goal isn’t usually project completion or “making” time for everything. It’s simply about acknowledging and honoring my impulses to create, however or whenever they emerge. I like to let a project take shape on its own, let it evolve around my life and living, rather than force it to adhere to a certain timeline. Sometimes I find that the “wide variety of passions and projects” is really just one big idea I’m trying to tie together across disciplines. I try to “reframe” my time more than I “reclaim” it, so that I make pleasure and growth the root of my creative endeavors instead of always working towards a final product.

For Hobart Festival of Women Writers 2019, Yolanda Wisher will offer the workshop, RAG & RIFF: The Poetics of the Quilt

What can the poet learn from the history, the matriarchal vernacular and the abstract architecture of Gee’s Bend quilts? For starters: the revelatory properties of color, the turn and bend of a line, its asymmetrical rhythms, and the individual voice that must come through the assemblage of fabric.

Read a fuller description of this exciting writing workshop here:

Read about all of our two-hour workshops and our six-hour Writing Intensives at WORKSHOPS 2019


More on Stephanie Nikolopoulos, go to Stephanie

More about all of our Participating Writers, go to Spotlights

Rack Card LINEUP MINI - 2019 (457 x 600)     LOGO 2019 - Small


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