Rachel Rostad is a slam poet, public speaker, writer and film maker with a powerful stage presence and a vibrant way with words. Her work is striking and profoundly honest, often dealing with issues of race, misrepresentation and feelings of alienation. We were lucky enough to catch up with her to talk writing techniques, inspiration and new projects.
Natalie Bolderston: How did you first get into performance poetry?
Rachel Rostad: In my first month or so at college, there was a poetry slam on campus. I went, and was blown away by the emotion and beauty of the performances (Mindy Nettifee and Rachel McKibbens). I had a background in both writing and performance, and I was inspired to try my hand at an art form that combined the two. I then started writing slam poetry (truly horrible stuff). With the help of friends, I developed my work and made the Macalester college nationals team that year. Then I made the team the following year, as well as the adult National Poetry Slam in 2013, after which I quit slam poetry. I returned to it, briefly and magically, this past summer for Rustbelt 2016, with an all-Asian-American team: Franny Choi, Paul Tran, and Chrysanthemum Tran.
NB: ‘To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang’ is such a powerful piece. How did you go about writing it? Was it always a letter?
RR: My coach had given us a writing prompt. He wrote down several genres and put them in a hat. We were supposed to draw two. I got “persona poem” and “humor.” I tried to think of a funny character whose perspective I could take on, and immediately thought of Cho. I actually didn’t like the piece (I still don’t love the way it’s written) but my team encouraged me to perform it at nationals.
NB: When did you first feel misrepresented or underrepresentated by the media?
RR: I think it was always in the back of my mind, when I’d read books or watched movies. And it was reflected in the culture I grew up in. I grew up wanting to be white.
NB: Are you still writing? Can you tell us a bit about your recent work?
RR: I am still writing, but sporadically. The most recent thing I’ve written is this: ‘Please Don’t Stop Me: Bruce Springsteen, Lana Del Rey, and Race in Americana.’
NB: I heard that you recently made a short film. Can you tell us a bit about the project?
RR: Yes! I made it over the course of a couple weeks. It’s the first short film I’ve ever made. It’s about a Korean adoptee who goes to Seoul. She feels foreign and ugly compared to the beauty standards there, and she meets a witch who gives her a magical mask that disguises her foreignness. It’s an allegory for feeling alienated from Korea, as an adoptee.
NB: Do you have any US or UK performances coming up?
RR: No, actually! I just finished up a little east coast tour, where I performed at Bryn Mawr and Yale, as well as a venue in Brooklyn. I’d love to make it to the UK one day! (If any UK students or event organizations are reading this, bring me to your school or event!)
NB: Do you have any advice for aspiring performance poets and writers in general?
RR: Read a lot of books, whether poetry or prose. Read the news! Watch other slam poets. Find mentors. Be open to criticism.
Hear more from Rachel: You can keep up with her via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr. For bookings (including workshops, performances and event hosting), contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Featured image credit: provided by Rachel Rostad.)