Interview

Shante Cozier: Call It How You See It by Erica Barreto

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 10.21.16 PM.pngShante Cozier is a published writer, arts professional, and workshop facilitator through the New York Writers Coalition (NYWC) in Brooklyn. Her first publication and debut chapbook of poetry “Sometimes Angels” was awarded the 2015 ND/SA Chapbook prize, and she is currently working on her first full-length collection of short stories titled “The Hardest Thing to Know.” Cozier has also co-edited a book composed of short prose and poetry in collaboration with the East Collegiate Middle School Writing Club.   

 

From a young age, Shante Cozier determined that she was an artist. She grew up naturally impassioned by the arts, becoming more aware of its ability to empower others.

During her undergrad at SUNY New Paltz, she studied visual arts, and then later engaged her artistic interest by interning at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA). Cozier’s involvement with MoCADA led to the hired position of Operations Director, and despite no longer working there to this day, Cozier acknowledges “It’s truly a special place…To work in a space with diasporan arts and diasporan people, and with a staff that reflects that is very rare.”

Cozier’s time with MoCADA eventually led her to the New York Writers Coalition, where she could exercise her artistic talents among community members. Although she began playing with language and writing poetry as a child, she did not know whether or not she would pursue her passion for writing professionally.

“I knew I would be an artist for sure. I was an artist my whole life, but I didn’t think I was going to be a writer, but then I decided I wanted to be a writer,” she explained, followed by laughter.

Quite often, the writer is categorized as an artist, and when asked why Cozier saw the identity of an artist and of a writer as separate, she coerced, “People think about calling themselves in terms of writers or artist and I think people should just call themselves how they see themselves. If you’re a writer, you’re a writer. If you’re an artist, you’re an artist.”

In this respect, Cozier should identify by all of the above: a writer, arts enthusiast, as well as a community leader. Shante’s work history, especially with MoCADA, enabled her to develop an act for the management of socially engaged projects, such as creative placemaking which brings art to underserved communities.

“We [MoCADA] did programs similar to the workshops. We did programming with New York City public housing, and we brought the art there. With the workshop, we write inside the community center, we use the jazz center, the basketball courts. We do all of that kind of stuff on site. My specialty is managing that whole process and doing project management for small cultural businesses. The ability to serve and include art in the community is what my skill set is.”

Inevitably, Cozier is talented not only when it comes to the project management that goes intoScreen Shot 2017-03-12 at 10.19.05 PM.png establishing her workshops, but also the writing that takes place outside of her work with the NYWC. In 2015, Cozier’s collection of poetrySometimes Angels was published by No, Dear Magazine and Small Anchor Press; it was then awarded the ND/SA Chapbook prize. Ironically, Cozier noted that in 2014, “I put it together as a chapbook with no intention to get it published.”

When asked about the writing process for Sometimes Angels, Cozier responded that it was “painstaking” but it allowed her to “work through the things I was feeling politically and socially.” She appreciates the process, nonetheless, and attempts to bring that to her workshop through writing prompts for both fiction writing and poetry.

“Prompts are helpful. They help open you up, open up your perspective on characters, on plot. Prompts for poetry can do similar things.”

Currently, Cozier is working on a collection of short stories titled The Hardest Thing is To Know. Though her success with poetry is evident, her focus seems to be more oriented toward fictitious story telling.  

“With short stories, no words are wasted. Every word needs to be intentional, and I guess the same goes for poetry. Yet the process of writing poetry is different than fiction. I work through the scenes, through the characters, plot and thematic structure. It’s a dedicated process and I think about it a lot when I’m writing.”

In light of such, it would seem that Cozier favors fiction writing more so than poetry, but she confirms that she prefers “anything in regard to telling a story, whether it’s poetry of fiction.” She proudly characterizes herself as a storyteller “consumed with adding visual imagery to the world,” and perhaps this want to add imagery to the world is influenced by Cozier’s interaction with the world through her extensive travels across Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

“Travel helps us gain perspective about ourselves in terms of the chronic fear of the other that we have. Traveling helps to magnify that in a certain sense; it helps to peel down those walls or create more depending on the person that you are.”

Aware of the impact of language and culture, Cozier has developed a keen interest and understanding of others, and this reflects in her approach to creating a welcoming workshop environment. She has worked with middle school students, the elderly, and young adults. Among all the different demographics Shante interacts with, there are no walls in her workshop because she has a strong desire to “making sure the writer feels comfortable, that they don’t feel as though they should stop writing.”  

And Shante Cozier doesn’t stop writing. Her passion and dedication to the arts are apparent and very much present within her personal and professional life. She offers a word of advice, especially for aspiring writers: “Really think about your work…Every time we write, put words out. Write something raw and get back to it. Come back to it with fresh eyes and see clearly what you were trying to communicate, and keep moving forward.”

Whether you are a writer or not, the heart of what Cozier says can apply to almost anyone. The time and thought invested into her work have ultimately paid off, and that is something we all can learn from. The embodiment of Shante’s artistic endeavors and community engagement can be simplified back down to her advice: keep moving forward and have your passion be the driving force. It will open doors, open eyes and expose oneself to a realm of opportunities waiting to be explored.

 

For more information on Shante Cozier’s publications and workshop facilitation, visit her official website: http://www.shantecozier.com

 

erica-bioABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erica Barreto is an aspiring artist who explores aesthetics, political purpose, and hybridity. She has published her poetry in both Rye Magazine (2009) and Spires Literary Magazine (2016) in addition to her music reviews and artist interviews featured on Hypnotic Hippo, an entertainment blog “dedicated to covering the latest hits and trends of the art world” (2015). She also has taught writing, as part of the Writers Workshop for students at Drury High School (Spring 2015) as well as serving as a Writing Academic Tutor Counselor for incoming college freshman (Summer 2015). She is engaged in community-based work, including Make Poetry Happen project; a chalkboard art installation which encouraged members of the community to create a collaborative poem. Barreto has received an award from TheMassachusetts College of Liberal Arts English Department in 2014 for outstanding work in the field, and she will be inducted into the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society in October 2016. She is currently a Junior, majoring in English Communications at The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

 

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