Illinois State English education major Naudia Williams won the America’s Best College Poet competition on October 25 after competing with students from across the country.
Williams serves as the vice president for Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. and the president of the Black Greek Leadership Council at Illinois State.
She started performing poetry around age 13 but did not become involved in Chicago’s slam poetry scene until her junior year in high school when she experienced a traumatic event that sparked a slam poem.
“At that time, I didn’t know how to express myself to anybody. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and poetry felt like my only outlet. I just wanted to pour all of what I was feeling onto the page and let it go,” Williams said.
Williams performed that same piece in the first round of the America’s Best College Poet finals competition. She then advanced to the second and third rounds where she performed poems about white racists in America and her mother’s experience with Lupus.
According to Williams, slam poetry is a unique art form because of its versatility. Williams said it allows writers to create art and turn it into an experience for the audience.
“You’re using your voice to convey a different layer to the story you’re telling. You’re using every bit of you to help people see the experience and also to help people see that they’re not alone,” Williams said.
Williams also said she is heavily inspired by hip hop artists like Kanye West and Jay Z. Their lyrics often contribute to her creativity throughout the writing process.
Additionally, Williams said she looks up to several Chicago-based performers who share their life experiences with audiences through slam poetry.
“Oftentimes when I write, I write in my perspective of being a Black woman from Chicago or just being a Black woman in America, and I make it where other Black women can resonate with what I’m saying,” Williams said.
To connect with audience members that may not personally resonate with her experiences, Williams said she uses raw honesty to keep them interested in the story.
“You have to be genuine in the story that you’re telling. The thing about a slam poet and the audience of slam poetry is they can tell when you’re living a lie,” Williams said. “It’s about being real. It’s about living the experience and the things you go through and knowing them on a first-name basis.”