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Chioniso Tsikisayi the award winning writer, performer and poet

Chioniso Tsikisayi

Profiles & Interviews

Chioniso Tsikisayi the award winning writer, performer and poet

I write because I desire to write, inspiration is usually a lesser denominator in the equation.

Chioniso Tsikisayi

Chioniso Tsikisayi

Introducing Chioniso Tsikisayi also known as Chichi Celeste. Chichi has made quite the name for herself on the Zimbabwean literary scene, a Spoken word artist and poet hailing from the city of Bulawayo. She’s also a Canopus Award Winner 2023 (Local Short Form Fiction), 65th Poetry Slam Contender (First Runner Up). Here’s what we discussed and got to know about her.

What first drew you to poetry?

I grew an interest in poetry and stories at an early age through reading books mostly. Any good book I could get my hands on. I craved language, colourful, descriptive language which illustrated images in my mind’s eye. However, the concept of Spoken word poetry is something I discovered in high school when I was seventeen. I auditioned for the Evening of Arts talent show and fell in love with performance, for stage.

Do you have any favourite poets or influences?

I have a number of influences; some even fall out of the genre of poetry and spill over into RnB music. Growing up in the early 2000s and consuming a lot of popular culture, girl groups, pop-stars alike all had some influence on the kind of performer and creative I am today. Even in the realm of urban grooves.

In terms of poets whose work I love, Maya Angelou has been a big one.

What is your writing process like? How do you get started on a poem?

My writing process involves a good playlist, especially when I’m dealing with prose but for spoken word pieces, I try not to write those, I perform them out loud and create a memory bank in my subconscious of the words. It’s only recently that I started to explore the world of publishing where I’ve refined some of my performance pieces for the page.

What inspires you to write?

I write because I desire to write, inspiration is usually a lesser denominator in the equation. It’s something I feel called to and I borrow inspiration from the world around me but I don’t always wait to anticipate that feeling in order to write.

How many hours in a day do you dedicate to writing and perfecting your craft?

I dedicate five minutes or five hours or a sentence or nothing at all on some days. Depending on the tides and seasons of my life. I’m not obsessive in my writing and I allow myself the space and grace to be human and watch soapies, and take cute selfies. Somewhere in that rhythm and routine of existing a story, a poem or a play will birth itself.

What are some of your recurring themes or subjects?

Politics of femininity and womanhood, socioeconomic issues, African identity, religion, love and loss.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing poetry for you?

Knowing when a poem is done saying what it needs to say is the most challenging aspect of writing poetry for me.

What is the most rewarding aspect of writing poetry for you?

The most rewarding aspect of writing poetry for me is when it speaks and resonates deeply with the reader or listener. When it makes them feel seen.

How do you see poetry’s role in society?

Poetry to me is like taking an X-Ray of humanity and recognizing fractures in the anatomy of our existence that we did not know were there before. To embody a poem is to become a surgeon of language and to learn to dissect the social ills and taboos that plague us, the things we don’t want to speak about, the love we fear expressing, the oppression we refuse to shed light on.

Do you think poetry can make a difference in the world?

It already is making a difference in more ways than we can imagine, we only need to open our eyes and observe the changes.

How are you so clued up on creative opportunities? What are some of your go-to platforms?

I’ve curated my social media in such a way that I’m intentional about following people who share the same creative interests as me. People who write, perform, film etc. and in most scenarios, there’ll be a call out for this that and the other. You’re always one retweet and one Instagram swipe away from your next opportunity.

I also read a lot of Afro-literary journals. Brittle Paper has a page listed with submission opportunities and AFREADA as well has a weekly newsletter in which stories, poems and literary contests are shared.

How excited are you to be speaking at the TEDxBorrowdale? How are you preparing for that?

I’m elated that I get the pleasure of speaking at TEDxBorrowdale. It’s always been a goal of mine to share ideas with other ideas enthusiasts. I’ve watched a number of TED talks online that left a real impression on me and since receiving this invitation to speak I’ve revisited videos online and taken notes from my own past in debate and public speaking in preparation for this.

What are some of the challenges facing contemporary poets?

Access to resources, to performance opportunities, to publishing opportunities as well. It’s a plethora of issues that affect creatives as a whole. The sustainably of pursuing a craft like this, and neglecting very real financial and familial obligations.

What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

I’ve been asked this question so many times and I hope I remain consistent in the advice I’m giving out. Sometimes I’m in need of advice myself LOL. But from experience I’d say, work smart and work intelligently. By that I mean if one avenue isn’t working, change your formula and change your audience. Do not bend yourself into all kinds of pretzel shapes to fit the narrative of where you are but think further than that. Move with the intention of growing and learning beyond recognition from just your peers, family and friends. If there are creative workshops to sign up for, apply and attend and collaborate.

Where’s the best place your talent has taken you?

The best place my talent has taken me, at this present moment in time. I got to travel to Kenya and Ghana because of Spoken word and I hope to add more countries to that list soon.

What is your favourite poem of all time? Why?

Of all time? Lol, I haven’t read all the poems there are to read in this world and I think that’s the sweet pursuit of it. It’s almost infinite.

Where was the first time you performed your work in a public place and how do you deal with the anxiety of public speaking, if you have any?

All I know is that each time I get to a new stage and I’m performing for a new audience that’s never heard of me. I feel seventeen all over again, auditioning to get in, and I’m nervous until I reach the microphone, until I hear my voice projecting itself from my body and I’m anchored back to why I love performing in the first place.

How can someone in your line of work capitalise on making maximum profit?

This is tricky. The ugly truth is there’s no money in writing… not like that anyway. You have to be doing all kinds of marvels to be exceptional in your field and then the money trickles in bit by bit. I’m still navigating these waters myself and perhaps in a few years to come I’ll have a different story for you.

Have you ever been commissioned to write specific pieces? How was that experience?

I don’t enjoy writing commissioned pieces. I think I’m really kind of pedestrian in the sense that if I’m putting out something it has to have bled from my core, or at least be guided by what I personally align with. It might change in future, who knows?

I know performing or writing poetry isn’t a typical office job, and there is no fixed income. How do you make ends meet?

I don’t have a fixed income and it’s something I hope will be regulated soon. But I am blessed and privileged in the sense that I am not financially supporting myself all of the time.

Has your family always been supportive of your career choice as an artist?

I believe they’ve always had an idea of what I loved to do but I don’t think anyone really anticipated that it would be this big a phenomenon in my life. So, the support is there but I think like most things in life, eventually your loved ones, friends, outsiders catch up to the fast-moving train that is your artistic journey.

As a multi hyphenate, what would you like to do more of in 2024?

I’m looking into doing more film and video work in 2024. Just putting out more content for the demographic of my audience that isn’t so big on reading, and are more of visual, audio consumers.

You’ve been longlisted for the 2024 Island Prize, how did that come about?

I submitted parts of my manuscript for the Island Prize last year after attending a writer’s residency at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study. I’ve always wanted to write a novel but I felt wary of navigating the waters of self-publishing alone. In fact, when I was younger, I assumed that I would be a published author before anything else. It just so happens that my poetry took off first.

Without giving it all away, what is ‘What it Means to Outlive a Daughter’ about?

What It Means to Outlive a Daughter is a story about loss and its effects on family, identity and heritage. That’s all I’m at liberty to say at the moment.

How important are creative collectives such as #Cottage47? How was it instrumental to your growth as a creative?

Cottage47 was great for me in that I learnt vital interpersonal skills from the experience of working with creatives outside of my own craft. Seeing how musicians, hip hop artists, producers navigated the world of entertainment. The good and ugly parts. In a sense I was protected moving within a collective as a younger female artist at the time. I think I have a greater sense of individuality now that I’m older but for a first introduction into the industry it’s great that I had that security.


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I'm Noni Zulu, editor of iNgudukazi Magazine and I'm proud to say that. This is a magazine that looks to empower the youth. We hope to entertain, inspire and motivate our subscribers and to help make a difference.

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