Creative expression is everything in Ololade Siyonbola’s world. It’s not just about art, it’s about sharing experiences and connecting people around the globe. Siyonbola is a woman of many passions but one of her first loves is poetry. The Nigerian-American poet began writing as a child after falling in love with icons like Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Lauryn Hill and more.
“As a child I just thought the stuff was amazing and I swore that I was going to continue to write and write better,” said Siyonbola, who has followed through with her dreams by releasing a self-published book of poetry entitled, Market of Dreams.
In the spirit of Women’s History Month and World Poetry Day (March 21), JETmag.com caught up with the renaissance woman, who is also a historian, co- founder of the Yoruba Cultural Institute and Director of Exodus to Afrika International, to chat about her artistic works and what she hopes to offer the world.
What was the inspiration by behind writing Market of Dreams?
I was getting to the point where I felt like I was ready to publish. I had been writing since I was a kid but as a college student I decided to take my writing more seriously. I had been writing secretly. And I had gone through so many things, and at the time most of my writings were an expression of my emotional state or a summary of the things that I was writing. A lot of my early poetry in that time frame—that college, high school period—was about love and relationships, friendships, and then as I got older, I wrote about more intense love. Then I started to write about history and became more engrossed in history and spirituality, so it was a documentation of what I was going through in the time period, of all the things that I had learned. As a writer I’ve published articles in magazines, but as a writer I seek to share my experiences in such ways that it would benefit someone else whether they’ve gone through something similar, or to prevent them from making the same mistakes that I did. So, Market of Dreams is a collection of all of that and the idea was to show the world that we have power, we have a large degree of control over our emotional state. The market of dreams is life. It’s the market where we can pick the type of friends we want, the type of jobs we want—most most of us, it’s a luxury—but we can pick if we want to be happy, we can pick if we want to be sad, we can choose to dance, we can cry. You have choices and it’s a market. There are just so many choices. We can also choose to dream and to live our dream and fulfill our purpose, so that’s probably the most important thing I learned on that journey and I took the best pieces that would kind of illustrate that discovery, that kind of showdown you can have if you choose it.
Why did you decide to self publish instead of going for a publishing house?
It was very important to me because this book came together as part of a vision. People always tell me, “You have to publish your poetry! It’s good,” but I had a vision for how I wanted the collection to feel and how I wanted it to come through to the reader. The vision is love, it’s light, it’s power and I wanted to make sure that I could exact that vision. I didn’t want to have to beg anyone to allow me to publish it in that way to express my vision the way that I saw it, so it was important that I had control of the process.
Poetry is not something that we go after. A lot of times we go after fiction, we go after escapism and I think it’s important that we start to embrace poetry in a different way because you can say a lot in one poem. You can say a lot in a metaphor. There’s so much depth to poetry and when you have this little capsule of wisdom, this three-line poem or five-line poem, it’s a capsule of gold. I’ve had people try to take my poems and memorize them because these lines are empowering so I think that we should really find a way as a society to revalue poetry because it’s very powerful.
What’s the work that you do with the Yoruba Cultural Institute and Exodus to Afrika International?
Exodus to Afrika is an organization that I co-founded about six years ago with the intention of enabling people and empowering people who want to go back home. This is Africans who have moved away and want to go back also Black Americans, Black Caribbean—anybody who wants to go back and reconnect with Africa, so our primary focus over the last six years has been documentation through research about different spaces in the continent, and what kind of access someone can have if they go back; what kind of jobs they can have if they go back. And the Yoruba Cultural Center is a project of Exodus to Afrika that focuses on the cultural aspect of that return.
We have a model that we want to replicate for other African languages of other African cultures, and we’re starting with Yoruba because I’m Yoruba and most of us are Yoruba in the organization. So, the Yoruba Cultural Institute focuses primarily on language and culture instruction. We have classes throughout the year. We do a major summer program the rest of the year, we do one on one tutorial online classes. The goal of that is really to just make Yoruba language accessible. Languages are dying because of globalization. When people move to the western world they feel like they shouldn’t speak the language to the children because they want those children to be as western as possible but when those children become 20 and 30 they realize they’re at a disadvantage because one, they don’t know who they are and where they come from, and no matter how far from home you go, home is home. You can be a global citizen, you can be an American citizen but you want to be able to have that root source identity, being able to say, “Yes this is who I am, this is who my ancestors were, this is what I come from but a lot of folks don’t have that because their parents didn’t impart that to them, so we’re trying to bridge that gap between the elders and the youth the value of information, and making sure that it’s not being lost we’ve taught hundreds of people to speak Yoruba language and we’re continuing to do that. We’re looking forward to a major program this summer with the language program in the city here in Brooklyn.
How have your travel experiences shaped the woman that you’ve become?
I think that there’s so much that we have in common as people anywhere in the world. We’re more alike than we are different and being exposed to different types of people, different lifestyles—it really makes me value who I am, it really has helped me to be grateful. I went to Nigeria for the first time in a long time last year. I’ve been to Mexico, I lived in Europe and I see a lot of the class issues and the personal issues that we deal with are kind of universal. But I’m very curious about how people interact and how people treat each other based on their culture, based on how they live in the world. So, these things made me very sensitive to people of every group. I’m very respectful when I meet someone from another culture. I really value the fact that they have a story, even though they’re almost the same as me they have this unique story, this unique history and I want to know more about that. I just love taking in cultures because it adds to my perspective, and I look at the world and situations with a very diverse holistic type of view without being one-track minded or being closed minded. It helps me to be very open-minded about how I deal with people and situations.
What do you hope people take away from you as an artist?
I want to inspire people. I want people to look within and see how valuable they are, to see how beautiful they are, to see how powerful they are. As much as I could, that’s what I tried to do with this book, because we all are god’s creatures. We’re created purposefully. We all have a unique gift, and a unique purpose for being in this realm, so it’s so important that we live our lives with understanding of that and when we look in the mirror that we say, “I know why I’m here and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability.” There’s a quote that I live by that really speaks to how I try to live and how I try to do art and my work. It says, when I stand before god at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say that I used everything you gave me. We’re given so much, and we have to get in touch with it and we have to use it. We have to become a blessing to others in the world.
Market of Dreams is available on Lulu.com and Amazon.com. For more information about Ololada Siyonbola visit her website.