On Showing Up As Yourself: Poet and Writer Nia KB

As we prepare for BABES FEST 2019, we’re sharing interviews with some of the artists on our lineup. Today, we’re featuring words from poet Nia KB. You can catch Nia KB on Day Two of BABES FEST during our panels and workshops.


who: Nia KB

Nia KB [they/them] is a Black queer nonbinary poet, editor, and educator currently based in Austin, TX. They’ve received fellowships from Texas Christian University, Lambda Literary, The Hurston/Wright Foundation, Winter Tangerine, The Speakeasy Project, and UTSA’s African American Literatures and Cultures Institute. Their poetry appears or is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, The Matador Review, Sappho's Torque, Vagabond City Lit, Rising Phoenix Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Foglifter Press, The Shade Journal, and elsewhere. When they’re not blessing stages or writing pages, they serve as a Teaching Artist for Creative Action and the Austin Library Foundation, Curator/Host of the open mic/reading series Austin Interfaces, Assistant Editor for Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Associate Poetry Editor for fields Magazine, and proud member of Lenguas Loc@s Writers Collective. If you got this far, follow them on the interwebs [at] nia_kb, and click here to view their CV.

When did your love for poetry start?

I think I remember the day in Mrs. B Williams' class in 7th grade. I had just made the transition from private to public schools and had literally 0 friends. Everyone in the school knew each other from elementary but me. I just remember having my head down in English class & then my teacher projected this poem & read it out loud for the class. I thought "damn, people can really write about this?" It was a poem about some girl not getting a call back from her boyfriend. But the language was so particular, and descriptive, and melodramatic. I was going through my emo phase, so I was hella into anything melodramatic. Slowly I started watching Brave New Voices videos on youtube, still too scared to dare write poetry on my own. I always journaled, though. And then I went to 9th Grade and finally got a group of friends and they all happened to be in the after school program for poetry. The poetry teacher also taught Spanish & straight up said "I see you" in the middle of class on the first day. It was destined to be, really.

What inspires your words and poems?

I think that answer changes as the days do but today my answer is the human condition. Lately I've been writing a lot of personal shit, but in the midst of those deeper cuts being published I'm getting feedback like "yo, that shit was so good. I really felt that" & it's an odd thing because when I was tryna write all universal & shit nobody was interested in my writing, haha. I think that drawing on my real life (while of course taking some creative liberties) has been really helpful. Even in more futuristic pieces (ex: Black Life circa 2029) I'm talking about real shit that people with my identities experience. Being catcalled on the street. Hearing some kinda ignant shit like "how u know u gay if u aint never slept with a man?", Clutching the wheel when you think you see a cop car; all inspiration for this pen's movement. I'd like to believe I get inspiration from making something mundane fantastical. Like this fake flower on my counter; why doesn't that deserve a poem?

Has it been challenging being a person of color and a non-binary in the literary world? If so, what specific challenges have you might of faced?

I think that I've been blessed to enter the literary landscape during a kind of renaissance of marginalized people. Today you have presses & lit mags dedicated specifically to folks within different marginalizations (see: Cave Canem, Kundiman, Canto Mundo, Foglifter Press, Winter Tangerine, Lambda Literary), and I think that's miraculous. I've been able to send shit to folks that are specifically made for me, and to be received now that my work is close to where it needs to be feels amazing. I recently went on a residency with the Hurston/Wright foundation at Howard University and damn near my whole cohort was black and queer. It felt like home. Being a writer right now feels like home, although the real world is anything but.

I know you are an educator, when did you decide to teach?

I don't think I ever decided to be honest. It's a path specifically inflicted upon writers because the overall narrative is that there's no money to be made writing poems. I, for one, think that's bullshit, BUT I also know the harsh reality that in order to make money writing poems you gotta be a poet-slash-5 other things until you can be just a poet. Teaching started off as a resume embellishment, and my in was being a high school/university tutor. But then I left a corporate job earlier this year (because it was soul-sucking, truly) and started being a part-time teaching artist cause I was pressed for money. To my genuine surprise it ended up being one of the best and most creative, but also most challenging, professions ever in my life? I should disclose that I was teaching first- to fifth-graders, which everyone says is hard but I very much prefer to teach younger folks now. I've also had the luck of creating all my own lesson plans since my teaching has been in after-school programs, libraries, and community centers. I VERY much would love to do more teaching; I have so many workshop ideas (*wink wink local orgs/universities*). This summer so far I've taught a group of fifth- to sixth-graders and now am teaching some very sweet older adults. It's been a very un-antiquated and think-on-your-feet journey, which is the kind of working I prefer anyway. I'm looking forward to thinking with some folks (which is what I view teaching as) a whole lot more in the future.

Nia KB

Nia KB

Where do you see your influence and skills going in the future?

As far an influence, my only goal is to make Black, queer, trans/GNC & other folks that share identities with me feel seen. I try to make every poem a possibility, or a reflection of the human condition, so if I have made life feel possible to my people, I've done by job. I can't really do protests anymore so my poems are picket signs (word to Noname for that "Hold Me Up" joint)!

Do you have any other interesting hobbies no one really knows about?

I really like nerding out about music (partially cause I was a band/choir geek in middle & high school). Like, the only thing that can get me as geeked as a poem is a clever vocal harmony/rhythm combo & a weird ass sounding beat. Like, Solange's "Sound of Rain"?! Orgasmic almost. I probably know everything there is to know about disco. I LOVE that genre & the history tied to it. I used to sing/rap/play drums & piano back in the gap & hope to return to that soon. I'm also a big Spongebob fan & can sing you literally any song from that show (that was released before 2010) from memory. I really like watching romcoms & hope to write/star in one someday haha. @ local film productions: hit me up.

What are you hoping to contribute or take away from BABES FEST?

I'm hoping that people take way that they need to buy and keep up with my shit! I also guess keeping up with Black/nonbinary creators in general. There are so many people showcasing amazing work at BABES FEST this year and I just feel super honored to share space with them and think for a little bit with you all.

BABES FEST is an ~ annual convening of minds ~ in Austin, Texas, celebrating and amplifying women and nonbinary artists. As a weekend-long exhibition, our performances, panels, pop-up markets, film screenings and networking hours span music, film, art, creative education and comedy. Our daily schedule, 3-day passes and one-day passes for BABES FEST 2019 are available now.

~ everybody’s welcome. ~

Jane Claire Hervey