Our strength is often composed of the weaknesses we're damned if we're going to show.
The preceding quote by Mignon McLaughlin, a 20th century American writer, faultlessly describes Jessica Holter (AKA Ghetto Girl Blue), at first sight, a small attractive California wife of a conservative Oakland police officer. A closer look reveals a loving and dedicated mother, a sympathetic friends, a compassionate writer and socially conscious activist. Look deeper into her dark brown eyes into her fiery soul where abuse, neglect, abandonment and racism blaze a trail into a ghetto Pandemonium from which she still struggles to escape, through the power of words.
When asked why she chose erotica as the platform upon which to build her spoken word family "The Punany Poets," she states simply, much the way her childhood rapist did to her begging the question "Why?" -- Because it was necessary.
The words that bubble into the throat upon witnessing a full scale Punany show could and do fill the 104 pages of the groups eclectic erotic: designed to stimulate, excite...educational: the promotion of safer sex... Resourceful: coupling with nonprofit AIDS awareness organizations-- lending a depth never before seen in poetry, sexual abuse campaigns or spoken word. When The Punany Project materialized on stage in 1997 it set the tone for the booming Bay Area poetry performance scene, encompassing, dance, song, radio deejays and notable music figures. "Punany is the projection of my life," she says. As hip-hop reporter she often faced the degrading commentary of music men and as a front row consumer of after-show antics, the Death of Eric" Eazy E" Wright, chilled her to the bone.
"My life?... If I could give my life a name it would be "Irony". You know like a heavy Shakesperian play where the character tries to escape his fate, but each plan only catapults him closer to a predetermined end. It's scary when I think of it. Since I was a little girl, long before I ever discovered that my mother was beaten to death, I believed I would die at the hands of a man."
Her East Oakland and foster family upbringing, along with he genetic heritage passed down from her Irish mother and West Indian (Black) father all combine to create what seems from outside to be a calm, Berkeley style, free spirited, compromising individual. That is until that deeper look reveals a creative energy and innovation that hits with the power of gale force winds, unveiling the existence of a presence with such magnitude that it could be housed in such a small package is itself a wonder.
Before she was born, her mother, "Jane Therese", whose name Ghetto Girl Blue uses in the controversial poetry collective , was a Berkeley hippie. "My mother loved love more that it loved her. She met my father around 1967 at followed him to a beautiful nudist colony in Sebastopol, CA. Amid the tents and trees of Morning Star ranch she was conceived. But before her birth, both of her parents were jailed for theft. GGB only knows of her father through the tall tales her mentally deteriorating mother who told her of the "Black Jamaican Prince" with the gift of song and the curse of a violent temperament Jane came to expect in all of her black lovers.
A gifted writer, GGB's journalistic skills have been exhibited in Hipno, Huh, Roots, Urb, Vertigo, and 4080 magazines. Her work has also appeared in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Oakland Tribune, The Washington Post, The Community Connection and Urban 411 on-line Magazine. Her public speaking began in oratory exhibitions at the tender age of seven when the third grader encountered her first audience and "found her calling". "I studied in Toastmaster's International and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Forensic Society, primary for the experience I planned to use in the Pulpit."
Reared in the Baptist Church, GGB gained an uncanny ability to enchant the brother's and sisters with her prayer and sermon styled speeches, finding her words rising to the church beams and rolling over pews with a technique reminiscent of the late MLK. But her plans to minister soon came to a screeching halt when she was molested by her foster father only months after her mother's death, raped at fifteen by a man five years her senior and ridiculed by peers because of her impending promiscuity.
It was in her depressive state that she found Billy Holliday -- "I was thinking of suicide all of the time. Then Billy came to me, she taught me that I wasn't alone, that I should help people with stories of my pain and maybe some of the healing would rub off on me. I guess before I knew it I was back in the pulpit... Sort of..."
At the conception of Punany: The Hip Hop Psalms in 1995, GGB's performing skills coupled with her literary gifts exploded to reveal a spoken word dynamo. The project earned both criticism and praise; notoriety and scrutiny.
The birth of The Punany Project diversified the perspective and increased the participants to 15 poets, writers and performers. The project matured into a campaign whose, in your face, no nonsense approach began to receive attention nationwide, finally landing her a spot on HBO's "Real Sex", which initially aired in March 2000.
What her style, whether erotic political or emotional, her performance will not leave you untouched. You'll leave wanting to make love, make change, or just cry, but one thing you won't leave without feeling. GGB is a force to be reckoned with.
You can also find out more about upcoming events and activities involving the Punany Poets by visiting The Punany Poets website.
You can contact Ghetto Girl Blue by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending an e-mail to TimBookTu and it will be forwarded.