At eight years old, Elizabeth Acevedo, BA ’10, had written her first poem describing the unanswered questions of the universe: why dolphins were peaceful and humans were not. She knew then as a first grader that she could make sense of the world through writing and performing.
“Poetry for me was inspired from a need to respond to the nameless and unspoken problematic dynamics in my community,” Liz says. “The stories and moments that inspire and push me to write are ones I don’t feel like get any attention.”
The daughter of Dominican parents, Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City, and her work is sprinkled with Dominican flair and the tenacity of a true city dweller. “It’s the stories of growing up Dominican in the U.S., of being a woman of color from the inner city, it’s those stories I don’t see or hear, that push me most to want to write and perform,” Liz says of her inspiration to write.
Liz has more than 12 years of performance poetry experience. She has performed at the Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, and the Kennedy Center; been a featured performer on the BET and Mun2 television channels; and delivered a TED Talk in March 2013. The national and international performer credits GW for giving her “a world-class education and lifelong connections.”
“Professors in the Theatre department and the English department let me know I was welcome to the literary table and that just because some of my poems were meant to be performed, didn’t mean that I wasn’t still a writer, and a necessary one at that,” says Liz, the first in her family to earn a college education.
While at GW, Liz designed her own Special Interdisciplinary Major in Performing Arts at the encouragement of professors in GW’s Theatre and English departments. She adds that GW’s faculty and its administration have always supported her career by providing opportunities to share her writing at events such as the 2009 GW Inaugural Ball and the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Ceremony in 2010.
“If it hadn’t been for these mentors at GW I don’t know if I’d have gone for my masters, and might not have decided to continue writing and performing at all,” says Liz, who is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Maryland. “GW affirmed that my passion wasn’t just a hobby, it was an imperative thread of the fabric of the university and thusly, society.”
Since graduating in 2010, Liz has stayed connected to GW by attending basketball games, helping oversee events with her sorority (Sigma Lambda Upsilon), and being part of GW’s Young Alumni network. She’s also frequently invited to perform by several of the student organizations and departments at this “extremely rare university.”
Liz’s performances have made her a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2014 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington D.C., but her most recent (and proudest) accomplishment came as head coach of the D.C. Youth Slam Team. Her team, a collective of twelve teen poets who perform their own original work, beat out over fifty other groups to become champions of the international Brave New Voices Competition last July.
“Seeing my students perform with poise, tell their stories, and then be recognized as the best was one of the highlights of my life,” she says.
Liz has continued to garner recognition for her work in 2015. Earlier this year, she was named a 2015 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) Woman of Distinction, a distinction she did not anticipate because of its prestigious track record of honoring university presidents, astronauts, journalists, and highly recognized social entrepreneurs. Liz says she is proud to be recognized by one of the premier conferences for college women, but most importantly being recognized as an inspiring role model for their students.
The icing on the cake—she was nominated because a fellow GW alumna shared her work with the NCCWSL.
“It all goes back to the shows and performances I was doing at GW, and unbeknownst to me other students were watching and cheering me on and have continued to do so as I’ve advanced in my career,” Liz says of her award. “It’s doubly flattering because it fuses together my time at GW as a student and the ways in which I’m now able to inspire college students across the country.”
Liz says her future holds more than performance poetry—she is currently working on several manuscripts that showcase her versatility and capability as a writer and creator, branching out from poetry and fiction.
Her advice to aspiring GW writers and poets is to find your own path.
“Don’t focus on the people around you, the constant comparisons, and the wonderment of whether or not you’re keeping up,” Liz says. “I’m just now starting to learn that I’ve been carving out my own road and that it doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s because it’s working for me and has opened a whole new set of opportunities. Always carve your own way.”
Bonus Material: Watch Liz Acevedo perform Rat Ode and Hair below by clicking on the corresponding image.