Kay Ulanday Barrett speaks at a poetry reading at the Western Washington University Perfoming Arts Center on Thursday, April 18. // Photo by Julia Vasallo
As the lights of the Douglas Underground Theater in the Performing Arts Center stage dimmed and the audience grew quiet, Kay Ulanday Barrett performed as a guest speaker for a poetry reading organized by the Associated Students Queer Resource Center on April 17.
Barrett is a Pilipinx, transgender and disabled poet, cultural worker and educator who travels and tours across the country.
Barrett performed poems from their book, “When the Chant Comes” and a few other pieces from their upcoming book, “More Than Organs,” which will be released spring 2020, in time for the National Writers Conference in San Antonio.
To organize this event, the QRC collaborated with the AS Disability Outreach Center, LGBTQ+ Western, AS Ethnic Student Center and the AS Environmental and Sustainability Programs, according to Nichole Vargas, community engagement coordinator for the QRC.
“I admire Kay as an artist and as an activist, and I respect how they use their art in a political sense,” Valeria Pedraza, educational programming coordinator of the QRC, said. “I loved sharing a space with someone that is so powerful and does such important work in a variety of mediums.”
The mission of the QRC is to provide unbiased programs, a safe space and resources for students who identify as queer.
Three other student poets, Aminata Dolo, Jonathan Soren Davidson and Valeria Pedraza performed before Barrett.
“Performing before Kay felt like such an honor,” Davidson said. “Being able to share that space with Valeria, Aminata and Kay in our collective vulnerability felt very special.”
The event was free for students, and every seat was filled with an eager and lively audience.
Barrett said they believe events that involve creative self-expression are important for marginalized students to have access to.
“I remember being an undergraduate myself and feeling so lonely and feeling isolated,” Barrett said. “I think it’s crucial to create collective awareness and a space where you are with other students and faculty that show you that we are all struggling.”
Barrett said their work is heavily influenced by their family background. Their mother is one of their biggest inspirations, and a current poetry collaborator.
“My mom was definitely my first poetry teacher,” Barrett said. “She said that education will save you in this country and did everything she could within her access and low-income resources to teach us ‘good English.’”
Barrett said in finishing their second book, they exclusively want to work with editors who are queer, trans, Black, indigenous or people of color.
The new book talks about questioning productivity and labor under the U.S. empire, Barrett said.
“I do not want straight, white hands on my book first,” Barrett said. “I want to be checked and held accountable by my own community.”
Barrett said the new book will include ideas about grieving and death and how people of color perceive loss. Barrett said they learned through elders, mentors and peers that as a Pilipinx person, poetry performance and politics are the epicenter of their culture.
“Poetry is a marvelous place to create a new world, reimagine new visions and archive work we are doing and need to do,” Barrett said. “Pilipinx poetry is part of my blood, and it’s very important that every culture has a poet.”
Upcoming events hosted by the QRC are Queer Con on Saturday, April 27, Pleasure Party on May 1 and a queer farm collab with the Outback on May 29. More information about these events and the QRC can be found on their Instagram and Facebook page.
“For events, we don’t measure success in a quota of people who show up,” Vargas said. “To us, success means that people who come get something out of it, and I feel that people did with Kay’s work.”