TBB Talks to … Anita Barton-Williams founder of poetry platform Heaux Noire

Heaux Noire is a platform for and by Black and Brown womxn* to share their stories through poetry and music…

Created by Anita Barton-Williams in 2015, with the concept of ‘for and by us’ at the core of its ethos as a space to inspire, support and uplift these voices, Heaux Noire has begun to carve a unique space within the open-mic world and recently hosted a critically praised event at the Southbank Centre as part of the London Literature Festival.

Although Anita is the ‘mother and father’ of Heaux Noire, the success of bringing the vision to life is due in no small part to a strong and talented group of womxn who make up the Heaux Noire team: Birmingham Producer, Aliyah Hasinah who manages the events in Birmingham, Bayan and Danni  who handle the marketing, Melika is the Resident DJ at the events, Myah is the Resident photographer, and Ruth is the team Project Manager/ Assistant Producer.

TBB caught up with Anita to find out more about challenging and transforming the open-mic space for Black and Brown womxn through Heaux Noire.

What inspired you to start Heaux Noire?

There were several factors, but the catalyst was a poetry slam I was competing in. When I moved back to London I started going to open mic nights (which I found were full of white men) and competing in slams. At one of the slams, there were only two women of colour in my heat and a white male recited the line ‘if mother nature was a Black woman she would have slapped the shit out of us‘, no one reacted, he got through to the final. I was disgusted. After speaking to the only other woman of colour at the event I decided that it was time to start something for and by us.

What does Heaux Noire mean?

Heaux Noire is a play on words. Heaux plays on French pronunciation and is pronounced hoe and Noire is the feminine noun for Black in French. Essentially it means Black Hoe. It used to be my Tumblr handle at a time in my life when I was challenging the idea that as a womxn it was ‘wrong‘ to sleep around, to be sexually free. I think that’s ultimately what Heaux Noire is about, challenging what society says is right and how things should be.

What makes Heaux Noire different to other open mic nights?

To my knowledge, Heaux Noire is the only open mic night run by and is for, Black and Brown womxn. The team is comprised of all Black and Brown womxn, the open mic night is reserved for only Black and Brown womxn and the features are always exclusively Black and Brown womxn.

What can people expect at a typical Heaux Noire event?

Love, light and good vibes. It’s a small but growing community. We don’t censor ourselves at Heaux Noire we are free to say what we feel and to do what we want without being fearful that our trauma is being exploited or that all we have to talk about is our trauma.

An image of different pictures of a night at Heaux Noire
Heaux Noire poetry experience

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

I can only really comment on poetry as that’s what I’ve spent most of my time doing. Reading. I’ve been lucky enough to have had tutors such as Rachel Long, Jacob Sam La Rose, Roger Robinson, and Bohdan Piasecki. They have all reminded me of the importance of reading.

Seek out/create a community where you can share your work, receive feedback, support other artists and be supported. I belong to several poetry communities like Barbican Young Poets, Octavia and Men Are Trash collective. Each of those spaces allows me not only to work on my craft but support and learn from other artists.

Join the poetry library at Southbank. Follow poetry organisations on social media to see what opportunities (sometimes free) are on offer. We post opportunities on our twitter account too so check that out and look out for our artist development programme coming in Spring 2019.

Who has been your favourite artist featured at Heux Noire?

I honestly don’t have a favourite, every womxn who has featured has touched me in a different way, it’s why I love Heaux Noire.

What has been the best thing about starting Heaux Noire?

Community. Creating and growing a space where womxn feel heard, supported and valued.

What do you have planned next for Heaux Noire?

There are so many exciting things planned for 2019, there will be more open mic nights, an artist programme, collaborations and lots more to be announced.

How do people get in touch if they want to perform at a Heaux Noire event?

Drop us an email info@heauxnoire with some of your work and come through and jump on the open mic.

*Heaux Noire’s use of the term woman aims to underscore gender fluidity and inclusivity to represent the voices of black and brown cisgender women and those of transgender women femme/feminine identifying genderqueer and non-binary people.

Heaux Noire is based in London and Birmingham. Follow on Twitter and Instagram for details of upcoming events.


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