Interview with Amoja MoMan Sumler Host City Coordinator for Southern Fried 2015

Tomorrow starts the first day of the Southern Fried poetry slam, which is a semi-regional (we let New Jersey show up sometimes) 🙂 poetry slam held in a different city in the south each year. Out of every tournament I have attended, to me, southern fried is still the absolute best. I have also had the pleaser of being the host city coordinator for a large scale event when I sat in that seat to plan the Individual World Poetry Slam. I know from experience that it is no small task, which is why I am excited, that on the eve of the big tournament, Amoja Sumler who is the HC coordinator for this years Southern Fried took some time to let me ask him a couple questions.

When was the first year you attended Southern Fried?

I’m one of those weird poets who inverts what’s generally considered the normal order for competing in slams. I attended the 2005 National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque before I’d even heard of Southern Fried. My first Southern Fried, though, was the following year when Birmingham was the host city. I instantly reconnected with friends I’d met the year before at NPS – folks like Henzbo and a VERY young and cocky dope teenager named Cuban.

I know asking what your favorite one is like picking your favorite child, but what was your favorite so fried?

My personal fave (and perhaps the most underrated) was 2007 So Fried in Columbia. Before bouts, I and members of my team were all greeted with food, cyphers, hugs, and that sense of family. There was every kind of poem that our world could bring. I met new poets each night, and after bouts, we were in the streets sharing the love. Columbia was the first time I ever saw Sheba freestyle, opening the cypher with the unforgettable lines, “How you gonna demand some ‘ish when you still learning to command some ‘ish.” To this day, the festival aspect of So Fried stands out in my mind. It’s certainly guided Rocktown’s approach to hosting an event of this size and caliber.

What made you decide to put in a bid for so fried?

Arkansas is a special place. It’s very isolated, even by Southern standards. Arkansas poets had no spaces. In Little Rock, I was forging places for poetry alongside poets like Jeni Emerson and Othello Leonard in Hot Springs and Brenda Moosey and Doug Shields in Fayetteville. Just to give you an idea of geography and the isolation Arkansas poets encountered, Dallas is a five-hour drive, New Orleans seven. All we had for the first decade of our effort was the interplay between our three scenes. This tradition continues with the work of the next generation scenes like Fayetteville Word Wars and Little Rock’s award-winning Foreign Tongues troupe. I’ve toured the country for more than a decade with a special emphasis on the South. I want to show the world, and especially the South, what we’ve built. I want the South to bring their energy, their activism, and their poetry to a city that’s come of age.

As the organizer what has been the biggest challenge?

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge has been maintaining the grass roots nature of Southern Fried while allowing the tournament to grow in ways that are beneficial to the poets that we serve. When I first started attending So Fried, it was the second largest tournament of its kind. It’s now fifth. Though I, of all people, would never be one to insist that bigger equals better (ahem), it is definitely time we embrace the refinements that have been pioneered by others and apply them to Southern standards of hospitality and excellence. Members of Rocktown Slam have spent no less than three full Southern Fried Slams volunteering our efforts to astutely analyze what worked well and what we could do to reboot the process all while remembering to keep everything in the spirit of the South. My team hopes that this will be reflected in everything that the 2015 Southern Fried Poetry Festival has to offer.

What advice would you give to any host city organizer going forward?

The slammasters who represent Southern Fried are among the best and brightest organizers in the country. Lean on them. That said, know your market. Have strong non-poetry community partnerships in place. Write grants. Network. Network. Network. 6. last question, what is your fondest so fried memory.. My fondest was the venue disruption in Birmingham. Mid bout, in perfect Southern Fried moxie, without missing a beat, we were all being removed from the venue but continued the slam right in the parking lot. Shaun Judah spit a poem that killed ANY questions as to whether we would be taking the rest of the bout seriously. That memory, that intensity, that camaraderie, that activism, that competition, that spirit – this is what I love about Southern Fried. With full respect to NPS, CUPSI, Louder than a Bomb, and Brave New Voices, I can say unequivocally that there is nothing quite like Southern Fried in all the offerings of the sport of slam.

For more information on the tournament go to the official website below