Community Through Art: Interview with Write About Now Founder, Amir Safi | Written Wednesday

Amir Safi is from College Station and is based out of Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University. He is the co-founder of Mic Check 501(c)3, the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival and the founder of Write About Now. He is a 2017 Houston Poet Laureate Finalist, a 2013 and 2015 Southern Fried Poetry Slam Champion, a 2013 National Slam Poetry semi-finalist and his work has been featured by A plus, BuzzFeed, Upworthy, The Huffington Post, Whataburger, Total Frat Move and more. Most recently, his poetry has been published by Pittsburgh Poetry Review and Tincture Journal, and he has received recognitions as a semi-finalist for the Crab Creek Review 2017 Poetry Prize as well as a finalist for the North American Review’s 2018 James Hearst Poetry Prize.

We had the opportunity to meet and connect with Amir. Read more to see what we learned about him!

You co-founded Mic Check and the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival, then founded Write About Now. What made you decide to become involved in the organizational/curating aspect of poetry?

Great question. Mic Check existed long before me; however, Christopher Call and I are the ones who made the organization a non-profit. Basically, I didn’t like slam at first. My thought was that Oh, you think your writing is better because you say your poetry louder? But then, I went back one week and the poetry night barely had anyone there. It was then that I decided to become involved because an outlet of expression was really needed in Bryan/College Station and it was really important that it did not disappear. It was idealistic forming a nonprofit. We thought we’re a nonprofit now so people are just going to give us money! We were wrong, so I created Texas Grand Slam as a fundraiser for Mic Check.

Texas Grand Slam was also created because slam communities often spend resources they don’t have to travel and compete at slams across the nation. With Texas Grand Slam, we could cut down the expenses for our members, attract incredible poets to our community and raise some funding for our organization in the process.

By the time I moved to Houston, I was completely burnt out on community organizing and over it. But then, my friend introduced me to a venue named AvantGarden and I took it as a sign that I had no escape.


What are important factors that anyone interested in starting their own arts non-profit needs to consider?

I would ask certain questions such as:

What’s your mission?

Is anyone else doing this work?

Is there a gap that this organization will fill?

Can you just collaborate with someone and accomplish the same task?

Have you done your research and compared starting a nonprofit with other ventures?

If you’re happy with your answers, you’re good to go!

You use seemingly mundane things such as monkey bars, pepsi commercials, and Whataburger as devices to convey powerful narratives about identity through your poetry. How have you developed your writing style over the years?

Oh man, okay. Time for self reflection here. So, what I end up doing in those works specifically is answering a question through a series of events or images.

For example: Amir, why don’t you just let things go? Or Why was the Pepsi commercial problematic? Or Why do you love Whataburger so much? And then I just try to answer that question as many different ways as possible, which helps me better communicate my message to the viewer/reader.  

Tell us about the start of Write About Now. What inspired you about the idea? What major obstacles did you face in developing it into reality? What is your proudest accomplishment from the outcome of WAN?

As I mentioned before, I moved to Houston with no intention of organizing ever again. I was burnt out. When I first moved to Houston, a friend of mine opened his home to me and invited me to stay with him for two months or until I figured the city out and was comfortable picking out a place to stay. Well, that friend lived with his fiancee and they were getting married at a venue named AvantGarden. He told me that the venue would be great for poetry and that I should talk to the owner. I politely declined and told him I was over organizing. One day he convinces me to go to AvantGarden to scope out the venue before the wedding. He introduces me to the owner, Mariana, and tells her that I have a lot of experience running poetry events and that I should do poetry at AvantGarden.

Mariana told me about how much she loved poetry. She gave me the recap of the history of poetry at her venue. She gave me the day, time, and space I wanted. And the venue’s name was AvantGarden. It was a sign and we’re about to celebrate our 4-year Wanniversary at AvantGarden.

Write About Now is different than my previous projects in that I’m older now and I’m in one of the largest cities in the country, which gives me access to more resources. My goal is to help your voices reach as many ears as possible. So I look at Write About Now as a platform that helps amplify the individual’s voice. The problem with a physical space is that you’re limited to those parameters. We’re meeting every week and bringing in featured poets. Why not film them? Boom! Now, we’re online, and the internet is another platform. Another source to help amplify the poet’s voice. We’re already filming the poets and we have audio. Why not use the audio to make a podcast? Boom! We created a podcast channel. These poems are on the internet already. Why not link up with media influencers like Upworthy, We are mitu, AFROPUNK, George Takei. Boom! Now, we have working relationships with these artists.

I’m really proud of it existing for four years and the community and quality of individuals and poets this organization has attracted. Honestly, my favorite part is building this wonderful community we have.

What is it like acquiring permission to record an event? Do artists ask for compensation?

It’s important to always receive the consent of the artist before you post their videos. We typically have general media release forms that we have artists sign. I can’t recall anyone ever asking us to be compensated. Most people appreciate having high quality video of their work published.

How is it like with competing organizations like Button Poetry and Def Jam?

The way I look at it is that other poetry channels aren’t my competition. In fact, the greater appeal they have the more opportunity it creates for Write About Now and vice versa. All of us are paving a larger runway that allows for these poems to take flight and that’s, really, what’s important.

Name some of your favorite poets that you featured/collaborated with.

I love working with Christopher Diaz, Ebony Stewart, Danny Strack, Mason Granger and Dena Igusti.

What experiences have you found to be the most frustrating and/or challenging when organizing your own events and programs?  Which have you found to be the most rewarding?  

As a community organizer, you have to always be prepared and on your game because anything that can go wrong will go run. Some difficulties I’ve had are trying to do high level production of shows and media while having limited resources; navigating how to keep a live outdoor show running with weather variability; collaborating with different artists and personalities and expectations, working with different media platforms, etc. The most rewarding thing about organizing is watching people grow, become better writers, and gain confidence on stage.

From your own perspective what are the most crucial elements to consider when building an organization from the ground up?  

The most important thing is consistency. People need to know that you’re going to meet at a certain place at a certain time at a certain frequency. But also, what’s your mission? Are you actions consistent with reaching its goal? Are you consistent in the way you make decisions and govern?

What connections/type of connections have you found to be the most valuable and beneficial to your organizing?

connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect connect

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As Hafiz says, no one knows in which shell the priceless pearl lies. You can never have too many friends or too many people in your corner.

You recently started adding captions to the poetry videos you post on YouTube. Tell us why you did/do this. Are there other ways like this that poets can help when performing/submitting poems?

A lot of times people ask what they can do to help Write About Now and I don’t often have a lot of tasks other than volunteering at the physical show. But, recently, we’ve opened up community contributions on YouTube to allow people to help add captions to videos on our channel. Captioning poems helps make videos more accessible for people with disabilities and people who may not be fluent in English. It also optimizes the video’s shareability. A lot of time people want to watch vids in an area where there cannot be volume. It’s super easy to add captions. All it takes is watching a small tutorial video and then trying it out.

Be sure to check out Amir Safi on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and watch Amir and other phenomenal poets on Write About Now!

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