Dowell Lecturer Azure Antoinette: Commit to Your Passion, Success Will Follow
Azure Antoinette shared the origins of her career as a poet and spoken word artist with the College Community, demonstrating with plenty of humor that success and the pursuit of one's passion are not mutually exclusive.
Antoinette delivered the annual Elvira M. Dowell '36 Lecture at Romita Auditorium on Thursday, March 27, presented by the School of Arts & Sciences Women's Studies Committee.
Antoinette's mother, a straight-laced litigator who placed great emphasis on academia and career, played the foil in much of her story. "She was all about 'get in the box, make a home in a box, get cozy in the box,'" Antoinette said. "Who needs a box? I set the box on fire."
So at the age of 25, Antoinette quit her job in human resources. "It wasn't sufficient," she said. "It was a lot of protecting the interests of the company, not passion." But breaking the news to mom did not exactly go well.
"Excellent, when do you start your new one?" was her immediate response. Antoinette's evasive answer was met with, "OK, so you felt pretty good about your second interview?"
When Antoinette finally confessed that she was "going to be a poet," the line went dead. She called back, and mom's longtime secretary answered. "Now's not a good time," she said.
For the next couple of years, whenever Antoinette would try to tell people she was a poet, her mother would interrupt and say, "she's not feeling well -- she works in human resources."
But eventually, Antoinette scored a volunteer job, then a stipend, then a gig to write a poem for Maria Shriver, then the first lady of California. Her mom's reaction? "Do you have your pearls?"
"I made Maria Shriver cry," Antoinette said to laughter from the audience. That performance, at 27, led to an invitation to the Women's Conference in Long Beach, where she met lumaries such as Jane Fonda, the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama.
Antoinette jokes that she had very little to her name. When a car arrived to pick her up from her tiny Hollywood apartment, she thought they were coming to collect on her student loans. Talking to legendary R&B singer Mary J. Blige, she kept thinking, "I wonder if she knows I just have four bucks."
"If there was a big break moment," Antoinette said, "it was that." She was signed to a national agency and has been traveling and performing since.
Now hailed as "the Maya Angelou of the Millenial generation," Antoinette has authored several books and in 2011 founded an arts-in-education program that provides custom workshops to excite and educate teen girls on how spoken word, performance poetry, and social media can make an impact on the world.
She urged her audience to "identify what it is that you love, identify what it is you are passionate about," and commit to it. She's proof that "you can do what you love and love what you do and make money out of it."
Antoinette performed her first commissioned poem, written for the American Cancer Society, which touched on the theme of people losing connection with one another, and then took part in an extended Q&A session.
Asked about her inspiration, she joked that "Sallie Mae" keeps her going -- needing to pay the bills. "I truly enjoy being a human being," she said. "I think it's a fantastic time to be alive, especially to be a millenial."
But while the possibilities are endless for young people, it's also important not to put too much pressure on ourselves to be successful immediately, Antoinette said. That's been the hardest part of her journey. The filter of social media makes it seem that "everybody's life is so much better than yours," she said.
"It's hard to to measure yourself up to other people," Antoinette said. "I try to be OK with my own timeline."
(Photo courtesy of Azure Antoinette)