Ama Asantewa: “Poetry is like a close, close friend”
As a writer, she celebrates peculiar forms of beauty. As a poet, she explores dark themes of society. In both cases, she’s a storyteller, whose works are born out of passion. Meet Ama Asantewa, one of the creative entrepreneurs selected for the All I Need campaign.
“What started as passion ended up being a career.” Ama Asantewa wears her black hair down, with large twists falling down her sides, one of her many different hair styles; a play on just how versatile she is in everything that she does. “I always wanted to be a writer,” she continues while leaning back, “and I was nurtured into it by my surrounding community.” Today, her work focuses on self-discovery and on how what she does can benefit the community she once grew up in; a path that was formed through some unconventional thinking: “It was the refusal to give into failure that played a huge part in getting me where I am today,” she discloses, “but my community has played a big part too; having access to other artists who also refused to give up was a big part as well,” she explains.
Ama Asantewa founded Black Girls Glow – a feminist collective and platform celebrating African women in the creative arts – and Love Rocks – an NGO which encourages young people to incite change in the world – which has become a vibrant cabinet of curiosities thanks to her magpie intelligence.
“I created them due to lack of these spaces existing for me as an artist and a young person, I started a lot of things because I needed them. This is what kept me going: the lack of things. The lack of faces. The lack of spaces. The lack of communities. Still today, that’s what pushes me to keep going,” she discloses. “I create these spaces, so that another artist doesn’t have to start from scratch. Because I don’t want to have left another poet. Or another writer, another artist, another Ama. I want to leave a spirit of fearlessness,” Asantewa continues.
Through poetry, a vocation that Asantewa describes as “a close, close friend,” she has become conversant with other creative people and their work. Referred to as Ghana’s most inspirational creative force, she also has an international appeal. She writes whenever inspiration strikes, for long stretches when the words are flowing.
After having hit on a story line and a structure she sticks to them, as if revising risks alternating what’s written. “I want my work to translate in a way that reminds people to be community-minded. I want people to think, not just about themselves, but the next person, the next generation, the future. That’s what I want my work to translate to,” she explains.
Her poems are steeped in history, whereas her stories are surprising and sometimes esoteric: an analysis of the power of avant-garde changes; a rigorous approach to life, all subtle reminders that she is as comfortable speaking about female sexuality as about loving yourself. “My work is very influenced by who I am and where I am from,” she says.
Asantewa’s life is as genuine as her social knowledge is broad, where every reading tells a story, only to then cascade into an operatic, often eye-opening, chronicle of the untold. And it’s easy to find listeners talking, with great pleasure, about the emotional mark the reading brought upon them. “Early in my career a woman came up to me after one of my readings and said, ’I felt so seen, thank you.’” she tells us, while continuing to point out that it was one of her first experiences with the complexity of humans and the power of spoken word: “It made me think about community because this was about me, about poetry, but it touched somebody else’s life too.”
It’s amazing how someone can cause some sort of social system rupture, solely by their presence. But that’s Ama Asantewa – known for narratives that illuminate the marginalized topics. A storyteller who writes lucidly and briskly about complicated matters that tend to evoke strong emotions.
The poet that doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable nature of her subject, quite the opposite actually; she embraces it only to infuse her work with a remarkable intimacy. She lets us linger in the emotional turmoil of her narrative, allows the dust to settle then whips it back up again. And with that, she accomplishes something that very few storytellers ever do – crafting stories that are hard to look at and equally hard to turn away from.
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