We are proud to have Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton, the first Black Poet Laureate of Houston, as a keynote speaker at Writefest 19.
This mother, wife, educator, seven-time National Poetry Slam Competitor and Head Coach of the Houston VIP Poetry Slam Team was ranked the #2 Best Female Performance Poet in the World. Her genre-bending poetry has engendered unconventional collaborations with groups as disparate as the Rockets and the Houston Ballet. Her work has been featured on NPR, the BBC, and the TEDx circuit. An opera for which she wrote the libretto premieres at the Houston Grand Opera in the spring of 2020.
As founding member and executive director of VIP Arts Houston, a non-profit dedicated to promoting literacy and the arts in underserved populations, she seeks to build more bridges that amplify the voices of artists in and around the nation. Her pen name, D.E.E.P., originated in middle school and is an acronym for Determined to Excel in Everything Possible.
Her next collection of poems, Newsworthy – published by Bloomsday Literary – is set to release Saturday, April 20. To celebrate, a special event is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. at the Wilhemina Cullen Robertson Auditorium at the University of Houston, Downtown.
Deborah graciously agreed to a Writespace interview and provided a glimpse into her creative process and dynamic mind.
What's the best part of being the Poet Laureate for the City of Houston?
Just being with people. The Poet Laureate position has given me access to so many types of people and places that I wouldn't have ever met or visited before. I recently got to travel to Leipzig, Germany to read and work in translation. I remember walking the streets and thinking "How did I get here?" Over the course of my term, I have asked myself that in wonder quite often.
How has Houston influenced your writing?
Houston has taught me resiliency. Prior to moving here, my writing was a very selfish thing. I wrote to be listened to. I think Houston has sharpened my ears and taught me that so many things around me are ringing worth stories. Even before Harvey, when I was a young adult settling into myself, Houston was a testing ground for my character and strength. I think that has shaped my writing in all kinds of ways.
What would you tell your younger (15-year-old) self?
Take more risks. I often regret more of what I didn't do than what I have done. I think that and, being a writer can be a real thing, even for you. In Black and Brown communities, we rarely affirm that being an artist or a creative is valuable before it is successful. I would remind myself that there has to be a first in everything and that I am talented enough to be that. I think I am still reminding myself of that.
What pushed you into poetry?
My high school English teacher, Mrs. McCurry pushed me into writing. I mean, I was already writing stories. She pushed me into poetry. I remember writing response poems for A Midsummer's Night Dream. She made me believe any of it was worth it. She actually introduced me to poetry slam too, from there, I couldn't get enough of it. I owe her more than she will ever know.
What keeps you inspired to write day after day, year after year?
Prior to this year, I wouldn't have known how to answer this. Now, I have had to put self-care practices in place.
I try to get somewhere quiet at least once a week. This could be sitting at a park or just stealing 5 minutes in a closet when my kids are distracted. A little bit goes a long way. I have also recently taken up gardening. My grandmother loved her garden. There is something about tilling the earth and reaping a harvest of something that you planted that is highly gratifying.
What is Newsworthy about?
I think it is about a lot of things. On the surface, racism, police abuse, the news. But on a deeper level, it is about fear and how it creeps in until it is normal. It is about how it squats until you forget who owns the house. It is about the people who suffer the living with it and the anger that makes love to it in the daytime. I hope that all of that is examined. Not just how a people could watch and ingest, but how our society has made racial targeting a newsworthy event that all partake in.
Want to hear more from Deborah Mouton at Writefest? Her schedule will be posted on the Writefest website soon. And don't miss the Newsworthy book launch on April 20th!
Be sure secure your tickets to Writefest if you haven’t already!