Jamila Woods is sitting in a circle of chairs at Young Chicago Authors, surrounded by her colleagues: a group of young people in their twenties, who make up the literary nonprofit’s teaching artists corps. Woods serves as YCA’s Associate Artistic Director when she isn’t touring. But lately, she’s been around the world and back: she’s just returned from her first headlining European tour, and before that, she played shows in Japan and Australia.
A lot has changed since the soul singer first released her debut project ‘HEAVN' in July 2016: she signed to Jagjaguwar - the same label as Bon Iver - in May 2017, and then reissued the album a few months later. But she’s been touring so much that it’s been difficult for her to work on any new material.
For the past year, she’s particularly enjoyed performing ‘Giovanni’, a track inspired by lauded poet Nikki Giovanni that hasn’t yet been released as a studio version, but is becoming a fan favourite thanks to platforms like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. The song is inspired by Giovanni’s poem Ego Tripping (there may be a reason), a piece that Woods enjoys teaching at YCA since it’s “very accessible, it’s very hip-hop.”
Now that she’s finished her last tour, she’s ready to dive back into poetry herself. She’s currently working on editing an anthology entitled Black Girl Magic. The book is organised around quotes by black women, and one in particular speaks to Woods more than the rest. “There’s this Sonia Sanchez quote that’s like, “I shall become a collector of me and put meat on my soul.” I started writing a song inspired by that. I’ve just been engaging in more material.”
Of course, the gravity of a book of only black women writers isn’t lost on her. “I think it was important to highlight [black women] especially in a book that’s rooted in hip-hop, like the voices of black women, in a time where we are in movements like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo, how there’s always a conversation of, ‘But this movement needs to be intersectional, this movement needs to come from like a black, queer, feminist lens and centre black women.’ I think it’s a good time for that and it’s also just so beautiful.”
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Words: Tara Mahadevan
Photography: Adama Jalloh
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