CLEVELAND — Siaara Freeman is a poet, playwright, and literary artist whose work is known worldwide. But her journey started right here in Cleveland.
"I come from this world of performance poetry, and I believe that words can perform on page as well," Freeman says.
Her journey to becoming a celebrated spoken word artist started when she was a student at Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst.
"I had a [creative writing] teacher named Ms. Kaprosy. And Ms. Kaprosy was adding a poetry section to her class. And we saw some spoken word pieces, some slam poetry pieces, and I was amazed," she recalls.
This inspiration led to a successful career, traveling nationwide and becoming a prominent voice in the genre. She is the current Lake Erie Siren, a teaching artist for Center For Arts-Inspired Learning and a 2021 Premier Playwright fellow recipient with Cleveland Public Theater. In April, she was named 11th Poet Laureate for the city of Cleveland Heights - and the first for both Cleveland Heights and University Heights.
Now, she is beginning her next chapter with the debut of her first poetry book, "Urbanshee."
"'Urbanshee' was 15 years in the making. A lot of this book is about reclaiming a redemption and finding a space for yourself. And if there is no space to find, carving one out. And though it is poetry, it is a narrative," Freeman explains. "And so I wanted the main character, this mythological creature that comes from this urban area to be fully fleshed out. And once I realized she was, and she was ready to be committed to the page, the poems were hers."
Freeman credits a number of influences on this work.
"I did not create 'Urbanshee' alone. I wrote her story. Society helped create 'Urbanshee," Racism helped create 'Urbanshee.' Classism, sexism, homophobia, and the murder of my father. So much helped create 'Urbanshee' outside of me."
Processing that immeasurable trauma, but also love, identity and so much more, 'Urbanshee' pulls from Siaara's experiences and these influences pour out on each page, even down to the way the words are presented.
"I have one poem called 'The Inside and the Outside of the Joke.' And we all know some jokes are inside jokes. And some jokes once they stop being inside, jokes don't tend to be as funny. And so I have the jokes boxed in on paper. And then towards the end, the words look like a smile with teardrops coming down the face," she said. "I think what I enjoy a lot about this book is the snark. This book can be funny sometimes. Stark humor. My mother calls me The Black Girl Wednesday Adams," she added with a laugh.
And it's those layers that Siaara puts into her work allows readers to feel every emotion.
"I would hope that 'Urbanshee' makes someone in this world decide who they want to be, good or bad, right or wrong, and stand in it and hold space for themselves."