Joy Elan Shares Signs of Life At Open Mics All Over Oaktown
Krip-Hop Nation (KHN) Hello Joy, I was introduced to your work by a Black disabled poet, Lateef McLeod. You live in Oakland and have been hitting the open mic scene. Tell us about your experience as a Hard of Hearing Black woman doing open mic.
Joy Elan: It has been a truly wonderful and rewarding experience! My first time doing open mic was at the Oakland Black Cowboy Parade in 2011 and I asked my cousin, who was on the planning committee, if I could do a poem from my book. She suggested that I do the poem in American Sign Language (ASL) while I spoke it. I performed it and it was well received. I knew I had to keep doing things like that so I went to Mouth Off Wednesday at Air Lounge in downtown Oakland. Since my first time at Mouth Off, I felt received by the audience and the host, Hot Water Cornbread. Going there helped me challenge myself as a poet and spoken word artist. I had the chance to see many poets perform their material and it taught me to push myself and think outside the box. I’ve done ASL with my poetry and I’ve sang and rapped. It’s fun to do things outside the box where people wouldn’t think a Deaf/ Hard of Hearing person would be able to do. The rest is history.
KHN: I love the poem, SILENTLY OUTNUMBERED! Tell us about that poem
Joy Elan: The poem is based on an incident that happened to me at a job. I’m usually overqualified for many positions so in this case, a superior thought that I was some “dumb, Black disabled” person and I had to shut that idea down really quick. They thought they could intimidate me and I had to let them know that there is a better way to deliver their message. If you challenge me, I will defend myself. In this case, I got my union representation and I’m used to people trying to pick on me. I always start this poem off by saying, “To those that know me, you’re about to see another side of me. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m really a nice person. It’s just that my kindness is mistaken as weakness when it’s actually my strength.” My message about this poem is never underestimate a person and their intelligence. I had to come off as a “mafia” to show that I am not to be messed with. This goes for everyone and I think it’s very relatable, whether you’re disabled or not because we’ve all been there where someone thought they could intimidate us. But how many know how to exercise our rights? I dedicated this poem to my union, SEIU Local 1021.
KHN: Have you been deep into the Black Deaf Culture and if so what do Black Deaf people face in our society in the Black hearing world and the White Deaf and hearing world?
Joy Elan: I have three things against me: Black, female and hard of hearing and I list them in this order because these are what people see immediately. I am hard of hearing because I can hear without my hearing aids; I just cannot hear high frequency sounds. I was born hard of hearing at birth due to an umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. Fortunately, the doctors were able to detect my hearing loss at six months and I got my first hearing aids at fifteen months. My hearing aids are like glasses, they amplifies the sounds that I cannot hear. I’m not deep into the Black Deaf Culture but I do interact with Deaf people. I grew up not signing at home so my first language is English. I did not learn ASL until I was four years old in a Deaf/ Hard of Hearing program at Oakland Unified School District. I moved to Berkeley Unified School District in fourth grade. I was mainstreamed with ASL interpreters from elementary school through my graduate program at Stanford University. I believe in challenging myself and doing what I want to do. I cannot completely compare my experience with another Black Deaf person’s experiences because everyone has different ways of communicating and growing up. I am not ashamed to say I wear hearing aids and that I may need accommodations or for someone to repeat what they said. My hearing aids are red because I am proud of who I am. The reason is because my family has always been supportive of me. They never treated me different and at an early age, they told me about the obstacles that I was going to face. I remember my grandfather telling me to forget about people teasing me about my hearing aids and the way I spoke because he came from a time where Black people were called niggers publicly and nothing could be done. He told me that unless I have been called a nigger then I have nothing to cry about. My family are educators and they graduated from Grambling and Southern University in Louisiana. At an early age, I wanted to go to UC Berkeley because I wanted to do something for me. I am the first in my family to graduate from UC Berkeley and Stanford University. This is because my family instilled in me that I can do whatever I put my mind to.
In the Black hearing world, there need to be more awareness about ASL and not mistaking it for gang signs. I cannot really comment on the issues of the White Deaf and hearing world because I have not encountered those issues. All of my friends are different ethnicities, religion, and disabled, non-disabled so I cannot tell you some of the issues I have had. It is amazing how far we have come in this lifetime about acceptance and inclusion. Also, I think Berkeley is the reason why I have not had those experiences because Berkeley is so diverse and open. When I attended elementary school in Berkeley that was the first time that I saw the whole school signing with the Deaf/ hard of hearing students. And it was not just my school; the whole district had the ASL alphabet chart in the classrooms. Students who are wheelchair users or with special needs were not mistreated or teased. I think that is why I do not see race or disability but I do see a person for who they are in the inside. I am still friends with my former hearing classmates in Berkeley and they still try to show me what they remembered in ASL. I am glad that they see me as Joy, the girl that loves to smile and laugh and not as someone different.
KHN: I heard you on Blogtalk Radio talking about your new book, Signs of Life
Past, Present and Future. I’m so happy to see Black Deaf/Disabled writers get publish. Tell us
Not only about your book but how other Black Hard of Hearing/Deaf/Disabled can learn from you about getting publish?
Joy Elan: My book is based on poems that I wrote as a journal. A friend of mine suggested that I publish a book since I love to write. I composed the book and edited it in about seven months. About a year later after the manuscript was completed, one morning I saw an email about publishing a book and I submitted the information. The publishing company, Xlibris contacted me within twelve hours and I was published two weeks later on July 14, 2011. They put it on www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. They are a self-publishing company so you have to edit it yourself. Since it was poetry, I had to edit my book regardless because poetry is my interpretation. But for my new novel, I may hire another publishing company because I will need an editor since a novel is more intense.
Anyone can publish a book. I did not need any fancy publishing company to publish and I enjoy it because it is my baby. I learned how to promote myself by getting a PR agent, doing spoken word, advertising on Facebook and at events. It has been a crazy year because the hard part was done and I had the proof to show that it was done. I am proud of what I accomplished and myself. I truly appreciate what musicians and people who are self-employed do because it is not easy to get yourself out there. However! Each step you take is very rewarding and you grow as you learn the business. You never know what you are capable of doing until you are forced to get involved and think outside the box. That is why I post Think and Grow Rich quotes daily on Facebook and Twitter because that book inspired me and I want to inspire other.
KHN: In your poetry do you sometimes teach about all the isms Black Hard of Hearing/Deaf people face and if so can you share a poem about that?
Joy Elan: I just write what comes to mind and what I am going through. I write more issues about being Black since African American Studies is my major and I want to teach history through my poetry. As I mentioned earlier, I have not had any deep issues about being Black and Deaf. In college and graduate school, I wrote two thesis about Black Deaf Education and how a variety of resources help students perform better academically. You can search it in UC Berkeley's African American Studies and Stanford University's School of Education library. I have written a poem about raising a hearing daughter who is trying to understand why her mom is "different." My daughter is almost five years old and it is amazing how much she understands that I cannot hear well. She brings me my hearing aids and tells me the phone is ringing when I can see the phone light flashing or feel it vibrating. Funny story: one time my daughter asked me for what I thought was couscous since I made it earlier for dinner. I said no you can't have couscous because it's late and it's time for bed. She said, "no" and stuck one finger in her nose and said, "tissue." I laughed so hard because I felt embarrassed that my daughter knew that I did not hear her right. For my daughter to be as young as she is she's very smart and she loves to help me. She makes sure I look at her when she talks because she knows I lip-reads and I am blessed to have such a loving daughter. She knows my Deaf friends and sees the different ways that I communicate (texting, talking on the phone, video phone, etc.).
KHN: I heard that you sing too. Am I right and if so what kinds of music do you sing?
Joy Elan: All kinds! I love music! If it sounds great, I love it. My favorite artist is Teena Marie so I sing a lot of her material as well as contemporary artists. I love piano, saxophone and guitar. Oh forget it, I love all music instruments. That is why I believe I am blessed to be able to hear because I could not live without music. It is a part of my life and without it; I would not be able to draw my inspiration. I have a special rap for the host of Mouth Off, Hot Water Cornbread. It's a rap from Teena Marie's Square Biz and I changed it to fit me but kept some of the actual lines. I usually close my performance doing this rap when I want to thank him. I say, "Hey yo what's happenin', entre vous Lady J, I've heard a boatload of other ladies' raps but they got nothing to say... I love to kick it, and write poetry, and (I turn to the host) a little Hot Water Cornbread, (I turn to the dj) I love you too cat daddy but don't let that go to your head."
KHN: There has been always a lack of Black Hard of Hearing/Deaf/Disabled people on TV, on the radio, in magazine etc. How can we change that?
Joy Elan: There's a lack of Deaf and Disabled people in general in the media. Sometimes I see where Law and Order will do an episode talking about something that happened with a Deaf individual or with Marlee Matlin. We need to get out there. It is up to us to take that step forward and show the world that we are. I am doing my part but I can only represent myself. One person is not enough representation of a group. I am an author and spoken word artist in the Bay Area. I am trying to get out there and let people know about me. I have Deaf friends that dance professionally, produce films and music, design clothes in the fashion industry, just to name a few. We are paving the way for the younger generation. All it takes is just one individual to step up and do what they want to do. The only thing holding people back is their mind and their confidence.
KHN: What are your next projects/shows coming up?
Joy Elan: I am currently working on a new poetry book called Silence Is Not Always Golden and a novel, which should be completed by next year. I am at the Air Lounge every Wednesday but please check my website or my Facebook page, Joy Elan for updates because things may change. People have been asking to perform at their events and to collaborate with them. I am excited about this upcoming year because I am already getting booked for 2013 and 2012 is not over yet.
KHN: What is your best verse in all of your poems?
Joy Elan: Hmm, I can't choose. I think the best one would be from Gold Digger.
I’m a gold digger
I want the best and I go for the best
If I was alive in 1849, I would’ve been one of the ladies in the Gold Rush
Don’t get it twisted
I’m not talking about going after some rich man’s money
Because I’m going to make my own
If anything, I got to watch out for the guys that want me to take care of them...
KHN: Any advice to young Black Hard of Hearing/Deaf women who wants to write likes you?
Joy Elan: My advice is that you can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy. Your mind is what makes you unique and it's up to you to work it. You can do whatever you put your mind to and the hardest part is the writing. The publishing is the easy part. It's the same when you write an essay for class and the easy part is turning it in because you did the hard work. Make sure you give it your all. Don't do anything if you're not ready for it. Take your time because you never know when that right idea might pop up. When I was editing my poems after leaving them alone for a few months, I was able to catch some things and create a better verse to make that poem stand out more. Don't be ashamed of who you are. Embrace all of you and share it with the world!
KHN: How can people reach u and buy your book?
Joy Elan: My website www.joyelan.webs.com. My twitter name is @JoyElan, and my Facebook author page is Joy Elan. My book is available in hard copy and e-readers. To order my book, you can go to www.xlibris.com, www.amazon.com (hard copy and Kindle), and www.barnesandnoble.com (hard copy and Nook).
KHN: Any last words?
Joy Elan: I am truly honored to be where I am today. I never take my talent for granted and the things and I thank God everyday for the people that I’ve met I've done on this new journey. I know it will take me far because I feel wonderful everyday and I am ready to see what step I will take that day. I am doing what I love and I love what I do. The sky isn't the limit because there's a universe beyond the sky. If the universe doesn't have any limits, then why should I be limited?