Local poet Quinn Edlin talks arts education organization Youth Speaks, intersectionality in identity

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After another day of facilitating teen poetry workshops at Berkeley High School, former BHS student Quinn Edlin settled down to talk with me about her inspirations as an artist in the East Bay. The 18-year-old wordsmith waxed poetic about the resources that organizations such as Youth Speaks afforded her during her introspective high school years, leaning into how her mix of identities has influenced her work over the years. 

“The intersectionalities of all my identities, so being mixed, being Black and white, being queer, being a woman, being a young person right now,” Edlin said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “(I’m) untangling, but also celebrating (them) at the same time.”

Even though she always knew that words were one of her strong suits, Edlin said she didn’t truly identify as a poet until the age of 14, when she dedicated herself to writing poetry and found passion within her community.

“I think that I’m most often writing about situations that I have already internalized and processed for a moment,” Edlin said. “I’m, like, finally taking the time to step back and talk about something that I’ve already been able to work through.”

At last month’s First Friday Black History Month celebration, Edlin headlined the Chapter 510 open mic teen poetry event. The poet has been going to First Friday events since childhood, and reflected on fond family memories and celebrating the cultural diversity of the East Bay. 

“It really does show … the beauty that is Oakland and the Blackness that is Oakland and the wider Bay Area,” Edlin said. “It’s just so much fun — you can dance, and you can sing, and you can come across places like the Chapter 510 open mic, which you might not know was going to be there, but once you discover it, it’s like this cool little off-branch of First Friday.”

Edlin graduated from Berkeley High School in January, but she is using the inspiration of her favorite former teachers to light her path. In particular, she noted the impact of Spencer Pritchard, who is the head of the African American studies department at BHS. 

“He’s been one of the most important, influential teachers,” Edlin said. “He’s definitely that one teacher that kind of changed my perspective about learning and about what education is, how it can be super fulfilling and it can be full of fire.”

In her post-graduate life, Edlin hosts workshops for high school students looking to explore their creative sides. This hobby falls in line with her future plans to attend college and major in African American studies with an eventual MFA in poetry, since she hopes to share her knowledge through a career in teaching.

Born and raised in Berkeley, Edlin has been using her energy to focus on the art community within the East Bay since her graduation. Most recently, she produced a chat book of some of her written work from the last few years.

“It was really cathartic to get so much of my work out in such a large amount and have it be seen by so many people that I am such big fans of in my community,” Edlin said. “It felt really scary also, because there is no ‘How to Navigate Life After You Put Out a Piece of Art That You Know is Going to Affect Your Relationships With People.’ It kind of exposes your feelings that you’ve never talked about, so there was definitely some stuff that I had to work through after. But I’m just grateful that I was able to vocalize my emotions in the art form that I love.”

Edlin also discussed how her various identities have influenced her writing.

“At first, when I thought about myself and when I wrote, I thought that it had to be through just one specific lens,” Edlin said. “I thought it had to be through a lens of Blackness, or a lens of mixed girl who doesn’t know who she is, or gay girl that doesn’t know who she is, and then I think I realized that being so many things all at one time is what makes me (me) — being multifaceted is one of the most beautiful parts of being a human being.”

From old movie posters in library books to inspiring local poets, Edlin finds inspiration not only within her surroundings, but also from within herself.

“There are so many more identities that I carry within myself that I’m still discovering all the time,” Edlin said. “I think that learning to kind of allow yourself to … sink into them simultaneously creates a kind of power that’s really unique.”

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.