KATIE CLARK interviews EBONY PAYNE-ENGLISH

What makes you want to create?

Many things inspire me. I am rather sensitive by nature. Breathing makes me want to create. Observing the world around me. I have a line in a poem that says “my reason for writing is that the universe is incessantly inspiring me.” It’s who I am. I’m a creator. I was born that way.

That’s beautiful. With us both being so connected to Jacksonville, I have to ask: what does community mean for you and your art?

My art is a reflection of my community. My art is made out of stories, ideas, words, and images I’ve been given from, in and through my community.

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Do you remember when you first felt called to poetry? Was there one moment or did it become?

I’ve been writing poetry since I could read and write so poetry definitely chose me fast. If poetry was a kickball team, I think I got picked first. I was like 4 years old when I started rhyming but when I knew it was going to change my life, I was 10 years old. It was the first time I heard Brenda’s Got a Baby by Tupac Shakur. I knew it was going to be my career when I was 18 years old and encountered the poets of Black on Black Rhyme for the first time at an open mic night in South Beach, Miami. They were on their Spring Break tour and I was down there for conservatory at New World. When I saw them perform, I knew that poetry was how I wanted to change the world. Every day after that has been about accomplishing that task. 

I love that. Poetry had the right idea for winning that kickball game. So with regards to accomplishing that task: What makes you feel satisfied with your work?

​If something I’ve written or performed inspires me to heal, grow, love, laugh or help somebody I am satisfied with my work. If​ something I’ve written or performed inspires someone else is inspired to heal, grow, love, laugh or help somebody I am fulfilled and my intent is actualized. ​

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I’m sure that what makes you such an incredible teacher/mentor. Do you have any advice for someone just beginning a path in the arts, or something you tell your students?

I tell my students that creating requires growth and growth is uncomfortable. I tell them not to shy away from those uncomfortable places but allow your gifts to guide you through them. Nobody can tell your story but you so use your art to tell it.

And finally, what are you excited about right now?

I am excited about my one woman show that opened here in Jacksonville on April 7th of this year. It’s called on Purpose and it will be my return to the theatre. I studied acting and playwriting in middle school and high school at Douglas Anderson. I attended conservatory even in Miami at New World. The poetry just occupies so much of my passion that I neglected that part of my artistic experience. I’m excited to get back to it. 


Ebony Payne-English is a literary artist, performer, and educator hailing from Jacksonville, FL. She is the first woman to establish her own chapter of the international poetry organization, Black on Black Rhyme. She is program director of The Performers Academy and a member of the Southern Fried Poetry advisory council. As author of the award winning poetry collection, Secrets of Ma’at, currently available on Amazon, Ebony has been featured in esteemed publications as well as digital outlets such as The Florida Times Union, Derniere Vie Magazine, First Coast Connect on NPR, and My Black Matters. Through her philanthropic work with Black on Black Rhyme Jax Foundation and Jax Youth Poetry Slam, Ebony has maintained a 100% college attendance rate amongst graduating mentees for over 5 years. In her 14 years of professional experience, Ebony’s performance accolades include The New Orleans House of Blues; Essence Festival; Nuyorican Café; Apache Cafe; Crossroads Theatre, The Mercury Cafe; The Cummer Museum & Gardens, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Ritz Theatre & Museum, TEDx, Jax by Jax, Art Republic International Art and Mural Expo, University of Florida, University of Texas, Edward Waters College as well as countless other colleges, universities, and prestigious entertainment venues nationwide. Her discography includes 3 critically acclaimed poetry albums: Old Soul (2006), Struggle’s Embrace (2010), EbEnFlo (2012) and her highly anticipated hip hop debut, Know Love, was released July of 2015. Ebony’s educational background features Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, New World Conservatory, Florida A & M University and Florida State University. She has taught invitational workshops at venues such as the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts; Just Like Me Cultural Arts & Education Experience, Morgan State University; Brave New Voices; the National Afterschool Programming Conference and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Ebony’s first one woman show, On Purpose, which is directed by Julliard alumni and Artistic Director to Phase Eight Theatre Company Jamario Stills, opens April 7th, 2017.

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