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If Shea Butter Could Speak: An Interview With Amanda Shea

2024 Judge of Breakwater's Peseroff Poetry Contest

By Taj Madison

Sometimes I find it strange when thinking about my degree and having the word “master” associated with my name. I’ve done my share of hard work and study but still, as a creative writer I find myself at odds with what it is I’ve actually “mastered”. And where I’m headed on this journey. But then there are moments when the universe hears such confusion and the stars align. And you meet people who remind you of your unique gifts and why it is you have them.

Well, I met Amanda Shea, Boston’s Spoken Word Artist of 2022 and 2023. Her lively energy is a breath of fresh air reminding me of how much a pleasure it is to be a poet.


I recently wrote a poem about Cocoa butter and Shea butter, how did you get your name, Amanda Shea? I’ve been pronouncing Shea (Ché) as shea, like chea is it Che?


I love that! I definitely want to hear it. It is Shea like the butter for all my melanated peoples please don’t play me. Honestly, my name came from Jharvi! We were sitting in my car and I was about to drop him off. I was on set with Anson Rap$ at an interview, he was speaking about how to book him,  he named me as his manager and the host started laughing. The host then said, Amanda Schaefer and pretended to be a show announcer in a high-pitched voice. Basically, he was not only making fun of my name but stated it was a “white” woman's name. I told Jharvi the story and how it still bothered me. We sat there for an hour trying to break down my last name. He then says, Shea! Amanda Shea! I liked it. It’s my maiden name, Schaefer (Shea - Fur). He told me to start using it and I did. Safe to say, it’s been Shea ever since.


Were you born and raised in Boston? How did you get into spoken word? When did it begin to transform into a career for you?


I was born in Charleston, S.C. I’ve been in Boston since 2006. It feels like home the most. I have been writing since I was 8 years old. As a kid, I was always creative and athletic. When I wasn’t doing gymnastics or track, I’d be in my room writing, listening to music, re-writing lyrics to my favorite songs. It became a full-time career in 2018. It was the BeHeard world tour that allowed me to see myself as an artist and how I could travel the world.


Were there any major influences or people who inspired you to write?


I love reading so there’s so many names that come to mind. I will say, I am inspired constantly by folks around me, especially the youth. I think writing was a way for me to escape my reality and retreat into my imagination. I felt safe there. I guess that’s a part of the inspiration as well. I had been silent for so long once I found my voice, I’ve never been quiet, especially within my writing. The youth are truly remarkable. They are so in tune with what’s going on in the world and themselves. The way they are able to express themselves, it’s inspiring.

"I had been silent for so long once I found my voice, I’ve never been quiet, especially within my writing."


Do you have any favorite books?


So many……I’ll name some of my favorite authors, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, Queen Afua, Julia Cameron, Adrienne Maree Brown, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.


What would you say is the difference between spoken word and poetry?  Is there a difference?


I believe there is a difference but I don’t focus on that. I tell myself and others, to just write. Whether you decide to perform it or not is solely up to the person. As in any medium, there are different rules and forms of poetry.


When performing, is there a particular persona or voice you embody? How do you find that voice?

In the beginning of my journey, I was trying to embody other artist voices. I was so inspired by them and yet afraid to be completely vulnerable. I was hiding behind what I thought the audience may want to see and what I thought I wanted to display. I quickly realized that it wasn’t me, it didn’t feel good. I would be on the stage and leave the stage feeling uncomfortable. My spirit was saying, be YOU! It’s ok to do it afraid but not at the expense of being fraudulent. The writing is mine, I couldn’t be afraid to show my true emotion even if that meant I wasn’t healed from the experience of the piece. Once I cracked myself open, there was no turning back.


You’ve performed in so many places: New York, Providence, Philly, and all over Boston. At Venues, Restaurants, Art galleries, libraries, etc. Every week I see you hosting, opening, performing, and even being awarded. What does traveling and performing mean to you? How do you balance it out? Is it ever too much?


I love traveling. I think it’s important to the soul. Traveling allows me to clear my mind, experience different cultures, meet and exchange stories with strangers who become family. It’s magical. It can become a lot. It’s a lot of energy to perform and travel. For me, rest is the balance.


What are your writing habits? What inspires you to write? How often are you writing?

I’m constantly inspired to write. The community and the youth inspire me everyday. I have three ways of writing; journaling, spiritually and contractually. In the morning, I like to journal and write out my dreams from the night before, my thoughts, feelings and what’s on my spirit. Spiritually, I feel the pieces I truly love the most, come from downloads. Rare emotion, triggers and downloads. I do write commission pieces often. I referred to those as the contractual pieces. Most of the time, they’re based on a theme and require a certain timeframe. I try my best to write once a week while allowing myself the grace if I don’t.


What does community mean to you?

Everything. Moving to Boston was one of the best decisions I could make. It’s shaped me into who I am today. The history, the art, the beautiful dance and war, the continued fight to be heard, seen and represented. Boston gave so much to me, I just want to ensure I am paying it forward because there’s no way to give it back.


What advice would you give to aspiring poets and spoken word artists?


Just do it! Your voice will inspire others to use theirs. The great Nina Simone said it best, "it is our duty as artists to reflect the times."


I’ve seen you perform once in person and online. Do you have any forthcoming projects or books you could tell us about?


Thank you for attending my shows! That means a lot to me! Honestly, anyone can choose to spend their time, energy and money wherever they choose. I am appreciative of those who choose to share space and energy with me. My book, “Pieces of Shea” will be available soon. I am producing a soft launch of the book on April 26th at Frugal Bookstore for Fourth Fridays curated by Paul Willis from 6p to 9p. The official launch will be in September. For now, I’m focused on performances, the book and curating events/productions. I’m producing another documentary for another state so I am excited about that as well.


When you’re not busy being a poet? What else do you enjoy doing? What are some of your favorite hobbies?


I love to read! I love roller skating! That’s one of my favorite hobbies. I am able to enjoy the outdoors and clear my mind. I love to watch documentaries too. In my free time, I mostly love to rest, enjoy art and be with my family at home.


Taj Madison is a recent graduate of the English MA program and first year MFA student at UMass Boston. He most recently won the David A Kennedy Prize for his exceptional work in poetry.


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