A-lan Holt: Writing the World I Want to See

We often think about change happening in policy or politics but art and culture is the space where change is happening quickest.
— A-lan Holt

It’s hard to say that there is anyone slay’n as hard as A-lan Holt. This truly inspiring woman is at the fore front of advocacy for diversity and representation when in comes to all aspects of artistic expression with her work in leading Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. Not only is she striving to educate people but she is also a dynamic poet, writer, playwright, and filmmaker.

Receiving a two year residency at the prestigious Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York as a playwright, her book, Moonwork, being short listed for the Cornish Family Prize at the Melbourne Art Book Fair, as well as being a 2018 Sundance fellow, followed by her first film ever, “Inamorata” distributed by Isa Rea’s production company, this woman is fierce!

So She Slays had the opportunity to sit down with A-lan to talk about what’s gotten her this far, what she holds dear, and what’s coming next.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?

Yes, so I’m an artist and an educator. I began as an artist through poetry and that kind of underlines the writing that I do for playwriting and also through film. I’m a writer and an artist but then I also have the other side which is the work I’m doing at Stanford, at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, as an art advocate and educator.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE INSTITUTE FOR DIVERSITY IN THE ARTS?

I’m the acting Executive Director for Diversity in the Arts. We’re a program at Stanford that is interested in supporting artist of color, supporting artist from under represented communities, and thinking about the relationship between art and social justice. So how can art help facilitate changes in our world that help to support all of us, not just some of us? Especially those who have historically been left out of questions of culture, so people of color, women, queer folks, gender non conforming folks, trans folks.

HOW CAN CULTURE AND ART CHANGE OUR WORLD?

We often think about change happening in policy or politics but art and culture is the space where change is happening quickest. So we think about the ways in which we understand how to care for one another, it’s all taught and transmitted through our culture and so we use art and culture as one of the best tools to help promote change. That’s what brings me to this space both as an advocate and also as an artist.

HOW WAS IT BECOMING ONE OF THE YOUNGEST PLAYWRIGHTS TO RECEIVE A TWO YEAR RESIDENCY AT THE JOSEPH PAPP PUBLIC THEATRE?

I was lucky right after college to go be a playwright and resident as apart of their emerging writers program for a couple of years and that really began my professional life as a playwright, artist, and writer. It was a two year program and it was an area where I could meet amazing directors, actors, and actresses. For example, Lupita Nyong’o was in the play that I developed there that year and it was like the year before she won her Oscar. It was a beautiful place to explore and develop in my craft especially being right out of undergrad and The Public is a place that uplifts diversity.

YOUR FILM “INAMORATA” LEAD TO AN OPPORTUNITY TO COLLABORATE WITH ISA RAE, TELL US ABOUT THAT.

The collaboration has been with her company, “Isa Rae Productions” and through her company my film “Inamorata” got online distribution. So she hosts my film on her platform and what that does is allow me to share my work with her audience.

TELL US ABOUT THE FILM.

The film is called, “Inamorata” which is a film that is like a retake on a love triangle. It’s about the messy relationship between three young people, two women and a man, and it kind of shifts perspective to kind of hold an incentive to the two women. So in thinking a lot about sisterhood, thinking about how to turn curses into cures, thinking about some of the spiritual practices that get us through some of our darkest times and so yeah it’s kind of this beautiful love poem of a film. The film has been very beautifully received. We debuted it in San Francisco, at the Black Film Festival and in Philadelphia, at the BlackStar Film Festival. It was my first film so to have it be received so well felt really good.

NOT ONLY DID YOU JUST COMPLETE YOUR FIRST FILM BUT YOU ALSO JUST HAD A BOOK PUBLISHED TOO, CORRECT?

(laughing) You’re right I am kind of everywhere. Yeah, Moonwork is kind of a companion piece to the film Inamorata. So it’s kind of thinking about a similar moment, the moment of becoming intwined into a new relationship and from there becoming a mother and a the rises and falls of being in love. As i mentioned I began as a poet, so everything that I do no matter what shape it ultimately takes begins from a place of poetry. So Moonwork, is that collection of poems in real time of me moving through these cycles of becoming a mother, becoming a lover, and from that Inamorata kind of came. They are very different pieces but they come from a similar source material and so I published Moonwork first and then a year and a half later Inamorata came.

HOW DOES DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION COME ACROSS IN THE WORK YOU CREATE?

For me, I’m writing. I understand the direct connection between what one writes in a script and who is represented on the screen. I’m being very consciences about writing, Asian American characters, writing black characters, writing indigenous characters, writing characters that are of many genders, of no gender, of one gender, and others. I don’t take lightly the work of culture and how it changes things quickly,

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

Right now I have a fellowship with SF film and last year I completed a fellowship with Sundance. I’ve been working on two projects. One is called, “Seal Skin Woman” it’s around Japanese pear divers, which is a coming of age story of this young Japanese girl that goes back to her hometown and through learning the specificity of her culture finds her true magic and is able to change things for the better for herself and her community. Also doing another project, which is a biopic on Phillis Wheatley, who was a black poet, one of the first public poets in America, and really came of age during the Revolution. When we’re thinking of the humanity of black people and how a poet can kind of turn that question on its head and thus kind of usher in this new moment of freedom.

DESCRIBE YOUR SLAY.

My slays is a few deep breaths before anything else and writing the world that I want to see.

You can follow A-lan on her instagram to keep up to date on the many projects she has in the works. While you’re at it take some time to check out Inmorata below!

Heather YoungComment