This fall, Harvard University will welcome a new freshman who is ready to take on the world. Our latest Passionista,18-year-old Sophie Kim, is a slam poet, filmmaker, playwright, LGBTQ activist and soon-to-be published author. Her book of poetry, Sing the Birds Home, comes out June 29th.
Last year she became the Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate. The title is awarded to a teen in the Los Angeles area for civic engagement, writing and performance. You can watch her performing Queerphobia: or, Love, Restricted at the award ceremony in the video at the bottom of this blog.
In all of Sophie’s artistic endeavors, she brings an element of activism. Her poems and films often center around LGBTQ issues as well as things like gun violence and immigration. She told us, “I'm really interested in using art as a way to bring about change and have conversations with other people.”
At 18, Sophie is actually too young to know where her passions will lead her, but she is sure her path will include art, activism and empowering others to be themselves. We’re betting it will have something to do with a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel prize or the office of President of the United States. Nothing is going to hold her back. Look out Harvard. Look out world.
Below is an excerpt from our interview with Sophie.
Passionistas: Sophie what are you most passionate about?
Sophie: I do a lot of different things like slam poetry. I've really been interested in that. A lot of documentary filmmaking, playwriting, poetry in films. But I think that I feel like all those things bring together using artist as activism. For example, I identify as queer and I came out in like eighth grade to my family and friends and from there I realized that this is something that I really care about and that I feel like I can really talk about through art specifically. Because I think that especially with some activists topics sometimes it's hard to engage people in conversation. Maybe talking about harassment is really difficult or talking about your own experiences. Maybe you're still trying to figure your own your own identity out. And you're not super ready to talk to a whole big group yet, which is like cool. With art it's really fun and easier to bring people to the table. Plus so much freedom. You don't have to limit yourself in any way because there's so much diversity in it. So something that I'm really interested in is using art as a way to bring about change and have conversations with other people.
Passionistas: In June 2018 you won the title of the Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate for your civic engagement, writing and performance. So talk about what that means to you and what that actually means.
Sophie Kim: The Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate is a program of Urban Word Los Angeles which is actually a branch of Urban Word in New York. And that's a program for youth who are really interested in slam poetry and civic engagement. And it basically supports youth who are interested in those things and a lot of other organizations like Beyond Baroque, the L.A. Public Library, a lot of different organizations. The award is basically given for not just like writing and performance but also social justice activism.
So part of it is doing performances like with organizations. But another big part of it is actually I'm going to have a book of my original poetry published. June 29th is the official day. I'm very excited about that… And something else I've really been able to do over the past few months is perform. I performed for the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations which works in Los Angeles specifically around human rights issues. And I was able to perform at an award ceremony when they were actually commemorating all these other LA activists… It's been really fun to do so far.
Passionistas: Are there common themes that run throughout your poems?
Sophie: Well there's a lot about LGBTQ identity. A lot of the stuff that I write is to make issues that I deal with as an LGBTQ person, or as my friends do, a little bit more nuanced. For example, I wrote this poem called "Queerphobia: or, Love, Restricted," which I actually performed at the Los Angeles County Youth Poet Laureate ceremony. And that one is essentially about how I is a person who identifies as queer was feeling not just like judgment like from outside the LGBTQ community but also within it. And that was a situation that a lot of my friends found themselves in as well. Something I'm really interested in exploring is how there's not one way to be LGBTQ or be received as whatever you identify as. And other stuff that I write about is this uncertainty about the world or what I want to see in the world. So for example, this poem that I wrote actually about gun violence. And it was inspired by my feelings about what happened at the shooting at the Florida nightclub Pulse in June 2016. Which essentially was 50-some people who were there, were killed and there there's 40-some others who were injured and that was at a gay nightclub. But also it was there having something called Latin Night. So it's like mostly not just LGBTQ people but LGBTQ people of color. When I heard that news and I read it on my phone I was like, “Oh my god. This is really scary.” And I wrote a poem about how uncertain the future can seem and how it's seeming more uncertain sometimes. Because that poem that I wrote about gun violence and not just gun violence as it exists but the fact that stuff like this could happen in the future as well. I was trying to explain this feeling of just not feeling safe anymore in concert venues or places that used to be places of community and comfort. So just about how fast the world is changing.
To find out more about Sophie and pre-order her book “Sing the Birds Home,” visit her website. To hear the entire interview visit ThePassionistasProjectPodcast.com.