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Cover Story: Can't Knock Her Hustle

Local poet Jennie Wright is busy but keeps her commitments working together

By Mildred C. Fallen · September 19th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Jennie Wright
Joe Lamb

Jennie Wright

When a woman says she's a single mother, it's not inconceivable that she has more than one job. But Jennie Wright's schedule makes one recall that In Living Color sketch about the job-juggling Jamaican family that made single-career people appear shiftless.

In addition to being a dock operations manager at the University of Cincinnati, she's a poet, a WAIF (88.3 FM) programmer, a college poetry slam competition coordinator and the owner of a small Walnut Hills cultural arts center. The words "free time" must come across as an oxymoron.

It's easy to feel lost in space on the receiving dock behind Tangemen University Center, which might be why Wright, who supervises a crew of six here, isn't unnerved by my 11:59 a.m. "I can't find you" cell phone call.

"I don't know if I'm in the right place," I tell her.

"Are you by a bunch of big trucks?" she asks.

Big trucks are all I see. ESPN video trailers the size of mobile homes hide everything else on the eve of UC's televised football game with Oregon State.

Thankfully, the bold, asymmetrical print on Wright's skirt makes her easy to spot amidst what looks like a small circus unloading. It's hard to imagine that it's here where she and some of her employees, who are also poets, birth ideas.

"For creativity, it is a nice spot," she explains. "Half of my slam team works for me on the dock, and it works out wonderfully because we do have a lot of downtime where we can still haul boxes and write and recite poetry."

This hustle-and-flow activity caught her supervisor's attention. She read a CityBeat article that mentioned Wright (also known as Black Budda'fly) performing in spoken word events like Lyrical Insurrection and suggested she create a similar event on campus.

And so UC Catskellar's Slammin' on Main was born in fall 2005. Because it starts at 7 p.m., it meant a break from spitting at twilight sets on a "school night."

"For me, it was a blessing," Wright says of the event. "When I was supporting The Greenwich (Tavern's Lyrical Insurrection) and Ra Poets Society, a lot of them were late night gigs. They were bar gigs. (With Slammin' on Main,) we're out by 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. It used to be that my daughter had to spend the night with my mom, and then I had to go pick her up early in the morning and I had to be at work at 6 a.m. My daughter would come to work with me every morning, and I'd take her to school on my first break and come back."

On Sundays, she winds up Reggae selections on WAIF's Caribbean Express program with co-host and slam partner, Rewop ("power" spelled backwards). And thanks to a building she says she got for "next to nothing" from Kristin Kitchen, owner of Six Acres Bed and Breakfast in Northside, she opened a neighborhood artists studio called Kuumba Ujima Artist-in-Residence and Cultural Arts Center on Woodburn Avenue. Currently, UC co-worker and local visual artist Tyrone Davis is the center's Artist-in-Residence.

"The main purpose is for it to be basically an artists' entrepreneurial incubator," Wright says.

Members from her slam team use the center as a practice space -- in addition to the dock, of course -- and, again, poetry integrates itself with another one of her commitments.

"We did a show at the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, and out of that association they became partners with our summer camp," Wright says. "They sponsored a program three days a week for us and field trips for us."

A woman this busy must have a secret to staying sane.

"I take two hours a day vacation," she says.

It doesn't seem like much, but for Wright it's probably like spa treatment.

Check out the first Slammin' on Main of the new school year at 7 p.m. Oct. 9. ©

Q: What's the coolest thing about you?

Jennie Wright: "I believe in, encourage and sometimes out and out push people to pursue their dreams and talents. I want everyone who ever said, 'I always wanted to (fill in the blank),' to make a plan and do it."

Q: How do you maintain a level of cool in high stress situations?

Wright: "By knowing that 'in the end all things work for good for those who love God and are called to his purposes.' My faith keeps me from totally blowing my top quite a bit. Just knowing that as long as I'm right and upstanding in the situation, whatever is supposed to happen will happen."

Q: Finish this sentence: It's not cool when people...

Wright: "Let their '­isms' get the best of them. When normally cool people allow their narrow, slanted views on race, class, age and gender to keep them from positively experiencing really good people and places. "



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