Chinaka Hodge was born in Oakland, California, graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individual Study, and received USC’s Annenberg Fellowship to further develop her practice. Throughout her academic, professional, and personal experience, her practice is continuously immersed in the culture, themes, songs, and performers of hip-hop.
As an educator, playwright, poet, and screenwriter, Hodge uses hip-hop as a means to write and perform on topics about her personal life and community, while also bringing light to current and past political and social moments. Dated Emcees is a compilation of twenty-five poems, each of which explores very personal and vivid stories that can, at times, verge on the ambiguous and vague. Her writing was very fitting for the scene here at 826LA, with its informal atmosphere and a great turnout of a diverse group of attendees, including Hodge’s friends and family, 826LA students and staff, and a number of individuals involved in the realms of music and poetry.
The event began with a brief introduction and performance by her friend, poet and performer Mayda Del Valle. Shortly after, Hodge took the stage introducing her book, humorously stating, “This book is like a hip-hop SAT…if you know the ending or artist I’m referencing… yell it out, I want to hear you guys!” And so as she began her first reading, an audience member yelled out, “Kendrick Lamar!”
That night, it was more than just a reading of poems, as Hodge performed and emphasized emotions, raising her voice, moving around and looking directly at audience members— truly engaging her viewers. She demonstrated confidence, fearlessness, and shamelessness as to how her audience would react when she read a very personal poem, “On Being the Other Woman.” Through her performance she placed herself and her audience in a position of difficulty and vulnerability, opening herself to confront personal obstacles faced for the audience to critique. She continued with a performance of “Bullet Proof Dress,” where Hodge continued to examine her role as a woman, a performer and activist while commenting on the challenges, misconceptions, stereotypes in a somewhat convoluted world. I believe, in doing so, she truly captured what 826LA is all about—teaching students how to strengthen their voice and demonstrate their opinions in a creative, effective, and confident manner.
On a larger scale, and in light of recent national events, I believe it was a significant time for 826LA to have invited Chinaka Hodge to perform her work, as this collection of poems covers so many points and reflects on both issues and challenges about race, class, and gender that we as a community are continuously forced to confront. Ultimately, as an alumna of the 826 program, Chinaka Hodge demonstrates her creative and critical ability to perform, write, and think about her community through the power of the written and spoken word.
~Ani Ohanessian, 826LA Intern