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At the age of five, a little girl named Andrea Gibson noticed a callous forming on her writing hand. Excited, she ran home from school to find her mother. When she finally got home, she held her hand up and said, “My hand is changing shape to prove that I’m a writer.”
Years later, that prophetic little girl has become exactly that. Gibson is now a working writer who has toured the world for nearly a decade as a spoken word, or “slam” poet. When not on tour, she lives in Boulder, where she just recently finished her sixth full-length album, “Truce.”
In 2008, she won first place at the very first Women of the World Poetry Slam in Detroit. She has also placed in the top five of the World Poetry Slam in 2004 and 2007.
Slam poetry is a fairly new form of poetry. The first poetry slam—a competition of poets performing their work for an audience—was hosted in Chicago in 1986. From there, the format of the slam and the aesthetic that went with it spread across the globe.
Andrea Gibson first arrived in Boulder in 2000, right as slam poetry was starting to take hold in Denver. Gibson had studied creative writing in college, and kept up with the local poetry scene by attending open mic readings around Boulder. Her first time seeing a poetry slam, she said, was a totally new experience.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen a poem turn a room electric,” Gibson said. “I remember being covered in goose bumps. There was just something magical about the energy of the person performing and the connection between the audience and the performer.”
Almost instantly, Gibson was swept into the Denver spoken word community. There was only one minor hitch to her newfound infatuation with slam poetry: she has terrible stage fright.
“The idea of getting onstage as myself, speaking the things I feel most vulnerable about and looking people dead in the eye—it seemed so terrifying to me,” said Gibson.
Many of the things Gibson feels most vulnerable about are also the things she feels most passionate about. Gibson couples art with outspoken activism in her poems, using her works as a medium to enact social awareness and change. The themes of her work are widespread and cover everything from her experiences as a queer person to stories about the tragic experiences of war veterans to livid and sorrowful elegies for Trayvon Martin and other victims of racial violence. To Gibson, her activism is the true calling of her work.
“I’m hoping to make some little nugget of change in the world—to make it a little bit more gentle than it is right now,” said Gibson. “If I focus on what motivated me to write the poem, it makes it a lot easier to get out on stage and do my work in the world.”
Gibson’s vulnerable honesty has created a huge following for the performer: videos of her poems on YouTube have over a million combined views, and her Facebook artist page has over 35 thousand likes. Yet, Gibson is still amazed at the impact her and her work have had on others.
Gibson said that, recently, a woman and her college-aged daughter had come to a show and stuck around after to shake hands. They told her that the daughter had started listening to Gibson’s poetry when she came out as a lesbian at the age of 10.
“That is so amazing, coming out at 10 years old,” said Gibson. “The idea of having this little, wonderful human listening to my work that long ago and the fact that she came out at that age partly because she was hearing people talk about it freely—that is really special.”
In celebration of the release of her new album “Truce”, Andrea Gibson will perform with Chris Pureka at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Boulder Theater. Tickets are still available.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Sarah Elsea at Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org.