An Interview with Denice Frohman

Kore Biters
A monthly interview series that highlights the writing and literary activism of
women writers who are transgressive and transformative.

by Arisa White and Rosebud Ben-Oni

Playgrounds & Piraguas


Poet, Activist, CantoMundo Fellow and native New Yorker Denice Frohman gets candid about privilege, otherness and why it’s important to “thank the women that came before you” just as we should “bring along the women that stand beside you.” Be sure to check out her debut album, Feels Like Home, in which she worked with some of Lauryn Hill’s former band members and musicians from Alo Brasil.

What was your last bite?

Arroz con gandules. No, really.

What’s your involvement with Sister Outsider?

I’m a part of a spoken word duo alongside award-winning poet, Dominique Christina called Sister Outsider Poetry. The name obviously comes from Audre Lorde’s famous book, which as Dominique describes deals with the tension between what is familiar and what is considered “other.” Our work draws from the intersectional realities of our lives and of space, as we attempt to tell our stories on our own terms, questioning what is considered “acceptable” and challenging preconceived notions of race, gender and sexuality in particular.

You recently wrote on Twitter: “The sad part is that I believe most people try to do right, believe they’re doing right, but can’t see they’re getting it wrong.” YES TO THIS. Tell us more.

I wrote that thinking about the intentions of well-meaning people who end up, for a number of reasons, not “getting it” around social justice issues. Then I thought about myself. And the times I meant no harm and caused harm. The message was just as much about myself, as it was about the damaging nature of privilege and how much we defend ourselves by saying “we didn’t mean to.” I want to believe most people are well-meaning. But I know that in of itself doesn’t absolve us from taking responsibility. I’m trying. I want to believe you are trying too, in your own way.

How was it working with classical musicians from the Curtis School of Music for your poem “Anniversary”?

It was an amazing experience. I love collaborative performances. I love music. I love how words and rhythms fit in “the pocket” and how they can create something new, better. The Aizuri Quartet is a talented group of string instrumentalists who rocked out with me thanks to LiveConnections (a music education program in Philadelphia) and composer, Andrew Lipke. Most people don’t think of classical music and spoken word as having anything to do with each other, but both encompass a musicality and knack for telling stories.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

Audre Lorde. Gloria Anzaldua. Mos Def. And recently, Frida Kahlo whose work inspires me to write what is immediate.

Describe your NYC in 10 words.

Playgrounds and piraguas. Hot summers and home cooked meals. Subways.

You’re a CantoMundo fellow; what’s your experience been like?

Truly transformational. CantoMundo is so much more than a fellowship. It’s a family. There are few other places in my life where I have felt as loved, as honored, as believed in as CantoMundo.

Tell us about your night at the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival.

BNV is the largest youth spoken word festival in the world. It brings together over 500 youth poets from all over the country and includes some international teams. These young people get a chance to build community and network with other leaders through workshops, lectures, and performance opportunities. As the former Program Director at the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, I’ve traveled with our team for four years and we were fortunate enough to host the festival in Philadelphia in 2014. There are few things more powerful than performing in front hundreds of young poets eager to share their stories.

Do you ever struggle with speaking your truth? When do the words not come?

There are some truths I’m more comfortable sharing than others. Right now I’m grappling with the ones I’m more uncomfortable with. The ones I’ve been holding onto, thinking to myself “I’ll write about this someday.” I’m trying to work myself out of that. Dig deeper. Sometimes I question whether I’ll be able to do my own story justice. Whether I’ll be able to get it all down the way I want to. But Tim’m West who was a lecturer at CantoMundo really inspired me to re-think that. He called writer’s block, “writer’s brew” and that makes so much sense.

Kore Biters Womanifesto: Please add two-three tenets for transgressive and transformative behavior that you believe every woman writer should abide by or incorporate into their lives or writing practice.

1.) Don’t apologize for reading your work in spaces that you feel are unwelcoming (i.e patriarchal, homophobic, racist, etc). I believe it is important to read outside of “the choir” in addition to saf(er) spaces, because that is also where transformation takes place.

2.) Power can also be reclaimed in the questions you choose not to answer.

3.) Thank the women that came before you. Bring along the women that stand beside you.

Come up with a prompt that helps us get on our House Slam.

Write a hyperbolic fake bio for a famous public figure, living or dead. For example, Frida Kahlo pulled herself out of a volcano’s vagina. Her hair is a mixture of gold dust and chicken bones. For fun, she bruises Diego’s ego and dresses better than most men. Let the gears in your imagination find the improbable and the impossible, and bring them both to life.

Contributed by Denice Frohman