Bold Black & Beautiful, One on one with Faylita Hicks

Faylita Hicks (she/they) is a queer Afro-Latinx writer, spoken word artist, and cultural strategist.

The newly Chicago-based author penned the critically acclaimed debut poetry collection HOODWITCH (Acre Books, 2019), a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry, the 2019 Julie Suk Award, and the 2019 Balcones Poetry Prize. They are working on a second poetry collection, A MAP OF MY WANT (Haymarket Books, 2024), and a debut memoir about their carceral experience, A BODY OF WILD LIGHT (Haymarket Books, 2025).

Hicks is the former Editor-in-Chief of Black Femme Collective and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review; they have received numerous fellowships and residencies from organizations such as the Tony Award-winning Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Civil Rights Corps, Lambda Literary, and Texas After Violence Project. Hicks’ poetry, essays, and digital art have been featured in American Poetry Review, Ecotone, Kenyon Review, Longreads, Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day, Poetry Magazine, and many others.

PrideIndex recently interviewed Hicks via email. Here’s what they shared about where this proud full-figured queer performer of color finds confidence, how they prepare to compete in slam, and what’s next.

PrideIndex (PI): When did you first know for certain that you would be a spoken artist and writer?

Faylita Hicks (FH): I started my career as an actor who was just looking for a space to perform. In 2003, the poetry slam offered a weekly stage and some extra cash to boot! About a year into performing, I realized how much I enjoyed writing poems and creating a space for them to live out in the world. By 2009, my obsession with what was happening on the page and my desire to learn more about the origins of my own lexicon led me to the MFA in Creative Writing. Though I enjoyed it for years, I can say with certainty that I knew I wanted my profession to be “writer” and “spoken word artist” in the summer of 2010. I was arrested for a misdemeanor charge, a theft by check for less than $25 in groceries, and while I was in the county jail–all I could think about was poetry. I wrote and read my poems aloud as a way to ground myself. I told myself that when I got out, I’d dedicate myself to making a living as a writer. I’m happy to say that this has become the case over thirteen years later.

PI:  Who does your work speak to? What do you want them to retain from your poems? 

FH: My work is primarily crafted for the queer or queer-questioning thinkers who fall in that space between pop cultural savant and social justice advocate. Sometimes, we make presumptions about the private lives of our activists. We make them one-dimensional and angry, as opposed to fully complex humans who want to dance and laugh and hang just like the rest of us. I want my work to make them feel seen and understood. My forthcoming poetry collection, A MAP OF MY WANT (Haymarket Books, 2024), opens with an epigraph from Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” In the essay, she makes clear the connection between sensual desire and political dissent. That is where I live most days–wanting to twerk my way into liberation.

PI: Name three people that have had the most influence over your artistic style. 

FH: That’s a BIG question. Much of my reaching for just the right combination of words and just the right images stems from my appreciation of Patricia Smith’s work. I was introduced to her via Poetry Slam and fell in completely with her book BLOOD DAZZLER. I am also highly influenced by the work of Shakespeare. My literary relationship with the playwright and poet is complicated, but I have always been challenged by the ease with which he was able to critique establishments and incorporate levity and emotional investment via absurdity without sacrificing lyricism. The last is the poet Ai. Her work was a stark and direct infiltration in my practice. Her ability to remove the masks we put on for others and have us stare directly into the camera via her persona poems was something I admire. 

PI: As a proud full figured queer performer of color where do you find your confidence? What would you say to other artists who are less confident? 

FH: Some days, I feel like I am in the middle of the most erotic burlesque show–slowly removing layer after layer of the persona I had to hide myself in because of societal norms and concern about my safety. My confidence is less about putting on a front and more about taking off my own masks. I have let myself be small in public spaces because, frankly, it was safer to be “the little guy.” To not be noticed by people with nefarious intentions. As I get older and come to terms with just how lucky I am to be alive in this era, I am able to remove each of those layers and labels that kept me hidden. I shine for myself, for all those who weren’t able to, for all those who can’t. I shine because I must.

PI: To date you have written three books, have two others coming up soon, have written or contributed to several publications. How do you decide which projects to work on? 

FH: I have written two books, working on a third, with over 50+ poems, essays, and visual art pieces published in publications like Slate, Essence, and Poetry Magazine. In the beginning of my publishing career, I was focused on getting my work in the literary magazines and journals with the largest readership. I wanted to put my work in front of as many eyes as possible. However, I quickly learned how that worked against my desire to advocate effectively for queer BIPOC communities. I learned how important it was to ensure these publications aligned with my ideals about equity and inclusion. I needed to meticulously curate where my name and work appeared. As a working writer and artist, I make sure that I will either be compensated equitably for my work and/or that the publisher will offer certain services directly to the community. If I’m not receiving some form of payment, is this a nonprofit providing workshops and publication opportunities to emerging BIPOC writers? Is this a publisher that offers professional development for queer editors? Those kinds of things. When it comes to the politics of the publisher, I am looking for spaces that are at least providing platforms to abolitionists and critical thinkers. Yes, publishing is a business, but there is always room for advocacy. 

PI: Without giving away any trade secrets, tell us how do you prepare to compete in slam?

FH: I’m a stretcher. I find a quiet place, put in my headphones, and stretch as many different parts of my body as possible. I think about the earth pulsing beneath me, the sky pulsing above me. I clear out my lungs and try to make both the loudest and quietest sounds I can. I want the energy to flow easily through me when I perform. In competition, I am concerned less with the title of winner and more with connecting meaningfully with each and every person in the crowd. I know that they could have been anywhere else in the world–but they came to be moved by someone like me.  

PI: When and where will you appear next?

FH: That is a good question, lol. I am excited to be headed to the Grammys in LA in February for the first time. Though I’ve been a member of the Recording Academy since 2021, this will be my first time walking the red carpet. My next performance will be at California State University in February as well, with Benjamin Boone and his band. Boone released his album Caught in the Rhythm (available on Spotify) in 2023. It featured me and several other nationally renowned poets, and we’ve been getting some good traction on the jazz shows in the UK. We’re working on our next project and this performance will be a precursor to that. In Chicago, I will be performing at Inside & Out: The Humanities and Mass Incarceration convening hosted by Illinois Humanities in March 2024. I received an Envisioning Justice grant from them this year and this performance will be the teaser for my official event being hosted at Haymarket House in May 2024. 

PI: What is ultimate goal as a performer?

FH: As a performer, my ultimate goal is always to remind the people in my audience what they are capable of. We have to hide our idiosyncrasies and lower our energy to fit in every day. Live performances are about the only time it’s publicly acceptable to unravel and be fully in one’s body. When I let myself be whole on stage, I make it okay for others to be whole out there. I like to think of my very best performances as an orgasm–a sensual release that opens the body, heart, mind, and spirit up to something more wonderful and fulfilling. It’s worked to get to that moment, but it’s all well worth it.

Social media handles:  @FaylitaHicks on FB, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok