Jahman Hill is an award-winning poet, playwright, director, professor, and the executive director of The Flourish Alabama, an arts education nonprofit he co-founded, dedicated to helping artists Bloom. In 2018, Jahman claimed the title of 3rd best slam poet in the world, and in 2019 he wrote, produced, and starred in an award-winning one-man show, Black Enough, which played off-Broadway. In 2021, Hill debuted his first short film, the award-winning Vanderwaal’s Journey, as part of the Alabama School of Fine Arts’ ArtWorks@theDJD series, combining poetry, dance, and videography to tell stories of his people.
A recipient of the 2021 Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Arts Poetry Fellowship, Hill has become a sought after poet internationally, and his poetry videos have garnered millions of views online. Jahman is a professor at the University of Alabama where he received Master’s degrees in both Communication Studies and Women’s Studies while also co-founding the Alabama Student Association for Poetry.
Soul of the South Q&A
1) What was your “aha” moment/When did you decide that this was the industry for you?
My “aha” moment would’ve been on the campus of the University of Alabama. My best friend and I had just moved to Tuscaloosa, and I was a junior at the University of Alabama coming from a community college. I was freestyle rapping like I love to do, and Eric looked at me and said, “You should try writing poetry.” And that’s how I got started writing poetry.
2) How did your upbringing/time spent in Alabama shape your career?
I’m originally from Kansas, but I always jokingly tell people I’m an Alabama poet. I didn’t write a single poem until I was living in the state of Alabama. The impacts of racism, not only in Alabama but in the country, shaped how I became a writer. My work is all built off a very clear and distinct goal of establishing equity and fighting systems of oppression.
3) What keeps you moving forward in the industry? Do you have a quote or motto that you find resonates?
It’s the theory of my nonprofit that I created back in grad school, The Flourish: black people are infinitely possible beings. What keeps me going is wanting to represent my people and help people to realize that they’re infinitely possible beings. I want people to feel empowered to create change, feel empowered to love each other, and feel empowered to be whatever they want to be.
4) How has your nominator made a positive impact on your idea of/relationship to the industry?
Ashley Jones is the Poet Laureate of the State of Alabama, and she has been a tremendous inspiration in terms of what poetry can do. It’s amazing the way that she has used her status as the first black woman Poet Laureate of the State of Alabama to elevate other artists and to elevate other poets to continue to enrich the poetry community here in Birmingham and beyond. She’s a huge inspiration.
5) What would you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
I would say the work that my nonprofit The Flourish Alabama has done for the idea of using poetry as a catalyst for community growth. We have worked with over a thousand students. We have paid over a hundred thousand dollars to artists. We have reached multiple states with our programming. It’s just incredible to see the impact that it’s having on Birmingham, the state of Alabama, and the South as a whole.
6) What would you like to see more of in Alabama as it pertains to your industry?
I want to see more poets traveling and engaging in other poetry communities, specifically performance, poetry, and spoken word. I want to continue to see those paid opportunities for artists. We’re trying to do the work now of building a creative artist economy. I really want for a poet to be able to move to Birmingham and say, “I’m a poet. This is my job.” And that’s it. I want poets’ art to be able to feed them.