Poetry Personified

Meet Nasra Adem, Edmonton’s Youth Poet Laureate.

Photography Ashley Champagne; styling by Sandy Joe Karpetz; hair Marika Stimac of Mousy Browns; makeup Calvin Alexander of Blushed Beaute; Vintage dress; jewellery from Brooklyn Beauty Supply Store

Nasra Adem might have only graduated from MacEwan University in 2015, but she’s since gone on to assemble an impressive rsum. The Calgary-born, Edmonton-based 22-year-old was named Edmonton’s second Youth Poet Laureate – a program run by the City of Edmonton in conjunction with the Edmonton Poetry Festival- in September and will occupy the role for one full year. She will act as a representative for youth poetry, workshop with students from local schools and write at least two original poems to be performed at City of Edmonton Youth Council and City Council meetings.

The young poet fulfills her love for theatre arts as Artistic Associate for Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre. She currently curates BAM! (Black Arts Matter) with Workshop West, which will debut at the multidisciplinary arts festival, Chinook Series, next month. BAM! will feature local and national black artists and provide them with a space to share their art, reclaim their narratives and reimagine a world that respects their humanity and creativity.

Adem is always on the move: Whether its visiting a school as Youth Poet Laureate, performing spoken word, or organizing Sister 2 Sister (a monthly showcase Adem founded to showcase female artists of colour), she dresses with function in mind while showcasing her east African heritage and Canadian upbringing. 

What motivates your writing?

It started off as a way for me to release a lot of the things that I felt I couldn’t tell anybody. So, I told my journal and she listened so well. It was mostly venting and trying to get the stuff out, but once I started sharing it, it became more about using my poetry in a way to move things forward and what I’d like to see change in the world.

What is the significance of having a Youth Poet Laureate program in Edmonton?

It’s so important! I think every city in the world should have a Youth Poet Laureate. I think the youth or the young voice is incredibly important in sustaining forward momentum for a city as it searches for growth. I think Edmonton’s only hope to continue that growth, and to have growth that is sustainable and actually changes lives, is to make sure that the youth are heard and their thoughts and dreams and needs are being met. Because, ultimately, young people just haven’t had the hope beaten out of us yet, and we haven’t existed on this planet long enough to become completely downtrodden by all of the systems that are here to ultimately crush us (laughs), so there’s still hope, there’s still fire, there’s still a light, and as long as we hold onto that as a city we can only go up.

How would you describe your personal style?

It’s definitely a representation of my emotional state a lot of the time. I value comfort over errrrthang (laughs). It’s eclectic – I have some things in my closet that I don’t know where I got them from – and its usually very transitional: It allows for movement. I’m always making sure I can do activities in my clothes. 

Ultimately, it’s celebration of my specific relationship to my blackness. It’s influenced by trends for sure, but I’ve always prided myself in showing a little weirdness and my alien tendencies in my clothing. I like my outfits to let people know who I am before I even open my mouth or to have an idea about what they’re dealing with before I open my mouth.

How much does your ethnicity influence your style? 

Way more nowadays. I’ve been trying to reconnect to that very aggressively, actually, and wear more of home on my skin and be cool with it and be proud of it. This summer, all I wore were these traditional dresses that they wear back home in east Africa called diraac. They’re so breathable; I wore them all summer with kicks or Timbs or boots. I’m also wearing a lot more head-scarfs and wrapping my hair the way my mom does when she’s just at home.

Hat and shoes from Forever 21; choker from Ardenes; vintage blazer; fur coat – her mother’s; Beyonc concert t shirt; jeans from Stitches

Where do you find your beautiful, African pieces? 

I’ll buy accessories from local African stylists and designers. Or, I’ll go home [raid my mom’s closet] or go to my aunty’s, or to the African stores on 118th Street.

Why is it important for you to reconnect to your roots? 

To call Ethiopia home, people would be like “But, you’re born in Calgary? What does that mean?” Finding that and reestablishing that connection has been so, so important to me in my poetry, art, style and relationships. I’ll mix a traditional diraac with a choker or a leather jacket, and mix the two, because I am the two. Neither one is lesser than the other and they don’t threaten each other either and that I can exist in the in between, in the dichotomy of all of it and be a whole person.

How do your day-to-day activities influence your style choices?

I fit a lot in my day and I don’t have a car, so I’m running around on the bus all the time. My outfits serve the purpose of the whole day. I want to be able to go to a class in the morning and then if I want to go to the Bower at night and dance, I’m ready for that.

What does a typical outfit look like for you?

Usually its black leggings or black jeans with holes in the knees, a choker is involved or earrings, and a cool jacket. I have a lot of black – I like black.

Does your style change for when you’re on stage? 

I try to pump it up a little bit. I try to wear more colour when I’m on stage. Some of my favourite stage outfits are all yellow.

Diraac dress from East Africa; Beaded No DAPL earrings from Sunspeaker Fastlightning; rings and chokers from Brooklyn Beauty Supply Store; friendship bracelets by Andrs Moreno

You’re a big advocate of black beauty. What is black beauty? 

It’s unapologetic – that’s my favourite aspect of it. It doesn’t give an “F” about what anybody says or thinks. It’s vibrant, loud, ancient, timeless and what I look to everyday to get me out of bed thinking about the beautiful black people, black art, and black joy and resistance that continues to exist.

Vintage denim jacket, mesh top and jeans, choker and hat from Ardenes; fist earring from Brooklyn Beauty Supply Store


Pastime –Dancing

Place to write poetry – Bedroom

Hangout spot – Massawa Caf and Bistro

Poet – Camonghne Felix

Author – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Social activist – All the ladies from Black Lives Matter! Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza

Novel – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Film – Honey

Musician – Chance the Rapper

Accessories – Raised fist (the symbol of solidarity and support) earrings from Brooklyn 

Shoe Brand – Doc Martens 

Local Poet – Brandon Wint

Local boutique – Decadence

Local bar/club – The Bower

Local festival to go to – NextFest

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