Her Storie: An interview of spoken words’ leading lady Storie Devereaux

Our favorite spoken word artists list would only be complete by mentioning Storie Devereaux. The singer, poet, and entrepreneur from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood on the South Side has performed at venues across the city.

She is the co-founder and coo of Stoviink Creatives, a brand collective specializing in the creative and performing arts. Stoviink Creatives offers a variety of handcrafted and artisanal products, from candles to home and body products and cranberry sauce. They also host curated events, celebrating our collective’s creative energy and the many stories they tell.

Here’s what the leading lady of the spoken word had to say about her spicy side, the advice N’tozake Shange shared, and her amazing cranberry sauce.

PrideIndex: When was the first time you ever performed in front of an audience? And what was that like?

Storie Devereaux: I was five years old. I attended St. Sabina, and at the time, Father Michael Pfleger was a part of the school administration. I’d shown a genuine interest in writing and a growing ability to express art. It was back in the days of roses are red, violets are blue, and we had this little poetry thing in my kindergarten class. The teacher’s name was Miss Harris, and she had everybody write a poem; of course, it had to have the element of rhyme. That more or less taught us rhyming and writing structure. She was preparing us for our next grade. We had a little poetry and talent show in this classroom. She had us all stand up before the class and read our papers. That inspired my little self, and I’ve been writing and performing ever since. I’ve always enjoyed rhyming and expressing myself through words. My mother was a writer, so it was no mystery that I would be a writer, a poet, or some form of artist at some point in my life.

 

PI: You’ve mentioned that your mother was a writer. Was she one of your influences? Are there other people who have influenced your style, and could you name at least three?

SD: Absolutely; my mother influenced my style. She was a beautiful writer, and she wasn’t known, but she was known to me. When she passed away, I found several books of her poetry and her writings. She’s definitely one of my influences. I am a huge fan of Toni Morrison as well, a huge fan of Jamaica Kincaid. These are just some of my favorite writers. I love the fact that all of these different individuals added some value. I was first exposed to Toni Morrison in college when I read “Bluest Eye,” “Sula,” and “Beloved,” and we had to read all of her books. I read Jamaica Kincaid when I was in grade school.

PI: If you had the opportunity to have dinner with Toni Morrison tomorrow by some chance through the universe, what would you say to her?

SD: You know what? That’s a good question. What would I say to Toni Morrison? What do you say to someone with such a massive literary like that? I hate to sound corny when I say this, but the only thing you can do is listen. Whatever. She could read the menu at dinner, and I would be completely engulfed. All jokes aside, I would ask her about the interview with the White Australian female journalist, Jana Wendt, who asked her [Toni Morrison] if she would ever change and write books that incorporate White lives into her stories substantially. What was most telling was the way Toni Morrison handled the lady. She didn’t go off on her. She didn’t. She wasn’t even super offended. She simply spoke with such eloquence and grace. She was absolute in her answer and her power. “She said, “You can’t understand how powerfully racist that question is, can you? Because you could never ask a White author, “When will you write about Black people?”

Whether he did or not or she did or not. The inquiry comes from the position of being in the center…, and being used to being in the center and saying, “Is it ever possible that you will enter the mainstream?” It’s inconceivable that where I already am, IS the mainstream.” That stood out to me because people often look to us to write about their experiences when we speak as poets and writers. After all, we write about the Black experience. I can’t write about anybody else’s experience but my own. So that interview stuck with me deeply. I would ask her about that interview and her feelings during and afterward? What did she feel as a Black woman to be interviewed and asked such a question?

PI: How would you describe your poetic or artistic style? If it were to be a seven-course meal?

SD: Jerk salmon with a little bit of plantains, some collard greens, a big cup of red Kool-Aid, and every single solitary thing that will remind me of why I write. These things are directly connected to Black culture. I would only ever express my poetry in that vein. In the vein of Black culture. Absolutely. So, I’m talking salmon, I’m talking greens, I’m talking macaroni and cheese. I’m talking about Jerk salmon, the kind of; in the oven kind of salmon. I would say something nourishing, feeling good for the soul. Good for the body. That’s my style. It always has been. I’ve always spoken about the Black experience. I’ve always tried to liberate myself through my writing. Sometimes, we must remember that when we write, we’re not just writing for the public but for ourselves.

PI: You mentioned Jerk, and Jerk connotes seasoning a spice. Tell me about your spicy side.

SD: I can be controversial. As an Aquarian, the way that I operate and how I connect with people is absolute. I believe in spices, and it takes a little bit of heat to make some things boil. If it’s about cultivating, expressing, and liberating people and getting people to speak about themselves, I have to be who I am. I am inherently spicy. So that’s just something that comes out in the wash. It’s not something you plan. It’s not something where you say, “Well, let me do this so I can get this kind of reaction.” I am just naturally myself. So, I embody all the spice, and I’m from Englewood. I mean that in the most favorable light because that’s where I was raised. My mother raised me. My mother raised girls in Englewood. I grew up with a little bit of grit and a little bit of edge. That added to the spice. Once I started writing about my experiences, it came with all that. It had all the necessary ingredients in it. At the same time, who doesn’t like something a little spicy anyway?

PI: I recall you mentioned that you had an album. I am trying to remember exactly, but you said it was about to or had already been released. Set the record straight for me.

SD: “Dirty Red Vinyl” was the name of an album I released about five years ago, almost six years ago. My partner, Tovi Kali, and I are working on a new project. We’re doing an album slated for the first part of the year. Say January, February of 2024. The album will embody poetry and singing, Black culture, and the woman’s experience. We’re talking about some life-changing stuff. We’re talking about our fathers, which you rarely hear about. In some music, you always hear reverence for mothers, but not necessarily the fathers. The beautiful part is that it’s not just those experiences; it’s Tovi and my combined experiences. Funny story. Her biological father’s name is Charles; my biological father’s name is Charles. I am a middle child; she is a middle child. So those things are directly connected to what we’re writing about on this new project. It’s about the Black woman’s experience, the Black experience, Black culture, and anything relative to love and liberation. That’s just the season we’re in right now for all our projects.

PI: Listening to what you described, I automatically thought of N’tozake Shange and even Meshell Ndegeocello. 

SD: Wow. You know, funny, funny, story. N’tozake Shange was on my Facebook page. And I didn’t think it was actually her. I got this friend’s request long before she passed away. I got this friend request because I had this poetry video that was going viral. And I was like, okay, I’m going to accept the request and send a hello; how are you doing? I wrote on her wall; I said I got this feeling like you’re not N’tozake Shange, but I will go ahead and write on your wall anyway. And sure enough, it was her. It was absolutely her; honestly, she gave me some sound advice on my page. She told me how she came by my Facebook page, and I asked her for her best advice regarding writing and expression and how I could write about my own experience and not be so profound. And she said, “Well, your experience is always going to be deep, she says, so you’re always going to write from a writer’s perspective.” She said, “Remember to be yourself in your writing. Because a lot of times when we write, we think that we write what we want other people to hear, especially when you’re writing, and you got bars, and you’re doing all that rhythm. Because you have to stay in your own vein.” That blessed me because a woman is a giant in this area and where I want to be. And she said, “Your writing will always be that. You’re always going to be that. So always stay true to yourself and your own writing.” She said, “Because sometimes you will write for others, and it won’t be for yourself.” That really resonated with me. God bless her. That was really a compliment to me.

PI: What about Meshell Ndegeocello?

SD: You know what? Meshell goes way, way back. A lot of times, even with my poetry and my music, one of the things I’ve always relished was just combining jazz standards with poetry. Believe it or not, when I started attending the open mics in Chicago, I always wanted to bring music to perform. They used to hate that because they said, “Well, can’t you just stand flat-footed and say your poem. You shouldn’t need music to amplify that.” But it wasn’t about amplifying the words as much as it was making the music dance with the terms altogether; they’d be more expressive and emotive because music moves me like poetry does. So, when Meshell Ndegeocello and even Jill Scott came out, Floetry and The Lost Poets, Common, and of course, the newest artists you know, Rapsody. All these different artists came out with poetry and music. I was doing that stylistically years ahead of time, years before it was recognized as a good thing. So, when I saw people like Meshell, Jill, and Floetry do the same thing that I love, it just reaffirmed what I had always believed was okay to do. 

PI: It’s so funny that folks will tell you don’t do this, do that, and if you listen to them and go against what is right for you, you make a critical mistake.

SD: Yes. Right. Absolutely. Then you lose sight of yourself because people want to put you in a box where they are most comfortable with you. Because sometimes, you put a lid on something like a pot that’s boiling, you put a lid on to keep it from aerating and the bubbles from bubbling. That’s life. People will put you in a space because either they are uncomfortable with your greatness or intimidated by it. So, a lot of times when I was just trying to find myself, people kept trying to tell me, “You know, Storie, you should be this way, or you should be this kind of person, or not be so expressive online, or don’t be so expressive in your videos.” That was my core, which was that piece of myself. That made it okay. And people connected to that. Now, I know that everybody connects differently. Like when they asked Luther Vandross, “What do you say to the people that don’t like your music?” He said, “Nothing, because I don’t talk to them.” That is precisely what I had to learn. You can’t talk to the people that are not listening to you. They don’t want to hear what you have to say. With that, I just started being myself. I just started walking in my own light, my own femininity, my own expression, my own Blackness, and my own experience. Again, I can’t write about nobody else’s experience but my own. Music helped me to express myself and sing and be out loud and be just as beautiful, Black, and wonderful as I could be, and people connected to that. When I wasn’t myself, the audience could tell because audiences can spot a lie and read whether you’re being authentic or not. I love what I do, and getting here took me a long time. Honestly, I just want to be myself in my skin, body, and person. When my mother passed away, it just changed some things for me. I discovered a whole life she had lived that I never knew until after she passed away. I discovered the life that she wanted for all her daughters as well. I said, “To hell with this; I’m going to live to the best of my ability and leave whatever legacy she wants me to leave.

PI: What are you working on right now? Either professionally, for your Art, or just regular nine-to-five like the rest of us?

SD: There are two things I’m intermingled in. First off, as a creative, I am working with Tovi. Our production, Art of the Wall, combines culinary commerce and creativity. We curate experiences for the general public to come and bring all people together under one umbrella. It allows us to hire bands, bring in different Black-owned businesses, and showcase the talents we know and the people we love, even down to the venues. It creates a cool intersection between us and the public because Art must remain vibrant and alive in communities. After all, that’s how you heal a community.

I respect every solitary craft out there, but I am an artist, so the best way to fight in activism, they call it artivism, is through Art. That’s what Art Off the Wall is. It’s an expression, it’s culinary, it’s the food, it’s live entertainment, it’s the venue, it’s the experience, and to give Black people an opportunity to have a good time in their neighborhood. We shouldn’t have to go away to the North Side, just to have a great time. We shouldn’t have to go away from the South Side. Why not in the communities in which we live? So, we take Art Off the Wall everywhere throughout the city so that people can experience what that is; we are not a nonprofit but a for-profit company. We keep our ticket prices low. We keep it affordable so that people get to experience it. That’s my creative side. 

Now, nine to five, I just started a position at an organization in Chicago called Chicago House. Right now, I am what they consider a Youth Guidance Intern. What that looks like is part of Chicago House, an organization that gives spaces, homes, counseling, and all types of resources and things to help individuals living with HIV and AIDS. They also have children who come to the community center at Chicago House. We engage them in all types of arts-related things, STEM, photography, and those of that type. I just started this position, and I’m writing up the curriculum for what that will look like for the school year. We want to bring in some really creative minds, some really dope people who can just speak to young people about what they want to do. I don’t have children, but my heart is for God’s people. If you want to change the world, you must start at home. And it starts with Black and Brown people for me. We can inspire them to be their natural, creative selves and grow into the world’s changes.

PI: What else would you like to share with us? 

SD: I am also an entrepreneur. We have a company called Stovi Ink Creatives. We have been in business now for three years. We make different varieties of cranberry sauce, candles, wax melts, body products, and accessories. We’re not just any type of candle or body product company. We’ve created these products as a way to extend the experience that we have at our local showcases. To frame that, Tovi and I needed merchandise. We wanted to have more than just CDs, T-shirts, or buttons. Those things have already been done. We wanted people to come to a candlelit show, and it’s a fantastic time; we want you to leave with that candle so you can remember the experience. We want you to go home with an extension of that experience. You can then play your own music and get into your space with your freedom and creativity. 

Cranberry sauce was something that I started making a little over four years ago. My mother passed away, and making cranberry sauce became a vehicle for therapy. My mother used to love that I made cranberry sauce. She couldn’t believe I made it because I wasn’t a cook. When I would make it, my family would make fun like, “Oh, she didn’t make this. She didn’t make this.” They thought I was lying, but I wasn’t. My mother passed away suddenly, and I fell into depression and just pure D sadness. My wife convinced me to seek grief counseling, and I found something that helped me to grieve in that counseling. I wasn’t grieving. I was just holding it in. Then the sauces became a phenomenon in the local community, and now everybody knows the Black lady that makes that cranberry sauce. So, there are so many different things.

We’re in production right now. We actually go to the Hyde Park Farmers Market on Sundays. We will typically be out there from nine to two. We will be there with peach cranberry jam, regular cranberry preserves, and all kinds of cranberry sauce. It’s become a thing. Our cranberry sauce goes on pretty much anything. You can get these big old butter croissants from Trader Joe’s, toast them, and get yourself some cranberry spread and Child; it is a blessing, I promise you. 

PI: Tell me your website so people can connect with you and your cranberry sauces.

SD: Absolutely. It’s www.stoviink.com. Remember that it is Storie and Tovi with the word Ink combined.

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 1: Don’t Underestimate her Poetic Prowess Brooke Gerbers

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 3: Sunshine of my life, A conversation with Sunshine Lombre

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 4: Introducing the Millennial Poet named B.

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 5: Fantastic Voyage: One-on-one with Motown Poet Urban Legin’d Obasaki

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 6: Just call her Dark N-Lovely, An interview of Chicago Poet Tarnynon Onumonu

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 7: Talking LOVE with activist & poet Michelle Antoinette Nelson

10 Poets you should get to know – Part 8: Poetry In Motion: An interview of Goddess Warrior

Coming Soon: 10 Poets you should get to know – Part 9: Ebony Stewart

Coming Soon: 10 Poets you should get to know – Part 10: Vision