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Conversations with Javon Rustin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Javon Rustin.

Hi Javon, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I wrote my first poem in 8th grade for a performance at a church in Durham, NC but did not seriously begin writing until college. I received my B.S. in Computer Science from North Carolina A&T State University. But, I spent a lot of time attending poetry shows and learning to craft poems in classes I wasn’t registered for while there (thank you Dr. Ahmad for not kicking me out). These classes allowed me and other artists opportunities to create our own shows for the university.

In college, I met professional poets from Durham, NC, who introduced me to poetry slam such as Dasan Ahanu and Lyrically Blessed. After graduating in 2013, I moved to Dallas, TX, and started competing in poetry slams on a national level. Under the coaching of Dallas Poetry Slam, I ranked 17th in the 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam and won a few regional slams in Texas. I also began submitting poems for publication, and so far, I’ve been blessed to be published in six anthologies in addition to several online publications, including I Am Hip-Hop Magazine (London).

Outside of poetry slam and published work, I worked as a teaching artist in the Dallas Public School District, using poetry and performance to instill social and emotional learning. I performed spoken word for both professional and entertainment organizations. I moved to the east coast at the start of the pandemic and now reside in the DMV area, where I continue performing for educational, professional, and entertainment organizations (and as many open mics as possible). It is great meeting all the new (to me) poets in the area.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
A large swath of the road has been relatively smooth. The poetry communities in North Carolina, Texas, and the DMV are very welcoming. My biggest struggle was finding employment that allowed me the flexibility to perform while living the life I desired. I left college and corporate jobs that were too rigid for me to pursue my passion. I believe companies are responsible for providing a work-life balance that allows for experiences like extracurriculars, side hustles, or family endeavors. Using my tech background, I was lucky to find a company that supports and encourages out-of-work activities. My co-workers are photographers, authors, and travelers. I work from home and now have the flexibility to write, practice, and feature enough for a semi-lucrative poetry career.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I specialize in writing. That’s my first love in this art. I strive to receive more publishings and possibly write novels in the near future. I write about love, family, race, sex, and my experience as a Black software engineer. Performance comes second, though I’m probably most known for slam poetry. Some of my favorite accomplishments include winning regional poetry slams in Texas and becoming a national semi-finalist multiple times. Despite having a love for competitions, my favorite performances are those in which there is time to speak outside the poems. I love full-length features. Knowing the more heartfelt writing can be heavy, I weave stories into my poetry sets that lighten the mood and hopefully cause some laughs. I do this with personal stories, family stories, or tales from my imagination. My goal as a writer and performer is to both educate and entertain.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
My advice in any endeavor is to find your people. I can name a slew of people that helped me and held me to higher standards, from my McNair Engineering Hall of NC A&T peers preventing me from creating poor code to nationally renowned poets like Wayne Henry and Rage Almighty offering writing and performance critiques. Even when I first started writing poetry, my friends who wrote skits with me in church kept me creative. When my cousins and I freestyled in amateur rap cyphers, they inspired me to think of words first and quickly told me if I was bad. I can always point to a circle that has uplifted me in talent and/or expectations. I won’t make that endless list here, but I hope those who have helped me know and feel my appreciation.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Almost all are cell phone pictures except SoFarSounds.jpg that was taken as part of a performance with @SoFarDFW.

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