Titilope-Sonuga, photo by Kosol Onwudinjor.
Live performance is where her magic is—where the call and response with her audience comes alive.
But live performance is just the tip of her artistic brilliance. She’s the author of three award-winning collections of poetry, has written three plays, released two spoken-word albums, scripted advertising campaigns for global brands, and—oh yeah—is the ninth Poet Laureate for the City of Edmonton. Her work, both written and spoken, grasps for moments of tenderness and persistent joy at the intersection of blackness and womanhood. And her hope for all artists is to dream freely and approach one’s work with courage. Writer, performer, and Poet Laureate—this week’s “I Am YEg Arts” story belongs to Titilope Sonuga.
Tell us about your connection to Edmonton and how it has influenced your path.
My family immigrated to Edmonton when I was a teenager, and it is where we have called home for over 20 years. I’ve worked in the city as an engineer and as an artist, and both journeys allowed me to be connected to the art of building something new here. Edmonton allows for that—the ability to find a place to contribute to the vibrant life here. Much of my work as an artist has been made possible by the way Edmonton has empowered me.
What has your first year as Poet Laureate taught you about yourself and our city?
My first year has reinforced what I’ve always known to be true: that there is a hunger for art in the city and a real desire to support and empower artists. I’ve had to embrace the duality of the great possibilities of the role and the realities of emerging from (and, in many ways, still be within) a world-changing, challenging couple of years. I know that people need art more than ever now, and it is an honour to be in this role at this particular time.
What do you hope to accomplish in your second year, both personally and professionally?
I’m hopeful for more opportunities to create and showcase work that reflects life in the city, to expand on artistic collaborations that were established in my first year. It would be a great accomplishment for me to make poetry feel accessible and welcoming to people who would not otherwise feel connected to the arts.
What drew you to playwrighting, and what about it suits your strengths/sensibilities as a storyteller?
Playwrighting is a new skill that I am building and sits within my intention to create work that is as expansive as possible. It is an extension of my creative sensibilities—an attempt to tell simple stories through the heightened language of poetry. It allows me to stretch a little beyond the shorter form into something with more room to travel.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming, June 18th, “Up on the Square” performance with Melafrique and why performing live resonates with you.
I often say that live performance is where my magic is. I love it with all my heart. The call and response with an audience, the real-time experience of the work, it’s really where art gets to sparkle. It is always an honour to work with Melafrique, they are extremely talented and bring another dimension to the live performance.
What does community mean to you, and where do you find it?
Community for me is about a sense of place, safety, and belonging. The effects of being held in deep care by community reverberates into all parts of one’s life. I have the privilege of finding strong community in many places—in my artistic life, in my family life and friendships, in Edmonton, and in my home country of Nigeria. It feels like an abundance of care to be able to connect in so many different ways.
Tell us about the role funding has played in your career and the doors it opens for artists.
Funding is the bridge between an idea and reality. In my career, the right funding at the right time has been instrumental in pushing my work forward and setting me up for the next level of my progression. Being supported financially has allowed me to dream more freely and to approach my work with courage. That kind of freedom opens doors creatively, which in turn makes way for the art to move through the world with the urgency it deserves.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d had when starting out? And what’s something you knew instinctively that’s still serving you?
I wish I had known that the only rules that really exist are the ones you make as an artist, that the work is expansive and to trust that deeply. I wish that I had known to simply move in the direction of what brought me joy, even if that came with a bit of fear. What I know instinctively is that vulnerability is power, and the truth does not fail.
Who’s someone inspiring you right now?
It has been really inspiring to watch Medgine Mathurin’s journey, not just as a gifted artist, but as a patient advocate and a living example of what it means to create from a place of deep vulnerability, truth, and courage. I’m constantly learning from her life and work. It feels like a real blessing to bear witness.
What makes you hopeful these days?
My children, their innocence, their joy. They bring a lot of simplicity and hope into my daily life.
Want more YEG Arts Stories? Follow yegarts on tumblr, where they will be sharing them here all year and on social media using the hashtag #IamYegArts.
Click here to learn more about Titilope Sonuga, and bring one home her poetry collection, This Is How I Disappear, on your next visit to TIX on the Square!
Titilope-Sonuga, photo by Kosol Onwudinjor.
About Titilope Sonuga
Titilope Sonuga is a poet and performer whose work grasps for moments of tenderness and persistent joy at the intersection of blackness and womanhood. She is the author of three award-winning collections of poetry, Down to Earth (2011), Abscess (2014), and This Is How We Disappear (2019) and has released two spoken-word albums, Mother Tongue (2011) and Swim (2019). Titilope has written three plays: The Six, an intergenerational exploration of womanhood; Naked, a one-woman play; and Ada The Country, a musical. She has scripted advertising campaigns for global brands and was an actor on the hit television series Gidi Up, which aired across Africa. She is the 9th Poet Laureate of the City of Edmonton.