Shooting the Breeze with Shaun Mitchell

published in Focus on the Coast, June 2013

Poet, actor and playwright Shaun Mitchell has been a fixture of the Wilmington arts circuit for twenty-two years. Often the first (and sometimes the last) on the dance-floor, Mitchell's a hard man to miss, often acting in his own plays.

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photo by Jason Armond
Some of my favorite works are his decade poems - cadenced verses performed with a strong voice. We sat down the night before he was about to debut his fifth in the series at UNCW's Spoken Word Poetry Slam for a quick chat at Old Books on Front. Here are a some highlights:

I've heard you referred  to as a "frustrated historian." Let's say you could control history and look back on your own life, how would you like to be remembered? 

As a writer, a historical playwright, and [smiling] at 51, a rapper. 

Is rapping new? 

I was a teenager when hip-hop started and it wasn't about rap. Before hip-hop, you'd go to a party and everybody danced, then the record stopped, and you have to put another one on. Hip-hop originally meant two turn-tables so the music never stopped. I never wanted to write rhymes about gangsta stuff; I wanted to write about what's relevant, like the Breast Cancer rap or about children eating good food - socially conscious subjects. 

So, prior to 51, you'd just say "poet" then? Tell me about your newest Decade poem. 

I want to capture history so people can experience it in a way like Andy Warhol's photos of Marilyn Monroe. I want to capture essences of America so people can see what we are like nationally. These poems are lists of the things that affect all of us. Most of my plays are about historical figures who many have never heard of but have affected change, like Willis Richardson Jr., a largely forgotten character in the Harlem Renaissance who was born in Wilmington. Another play explained how Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea led to our current Christianity. Both of those were produced locally, one at Thalian Hall, the other at UNCW. 

To find out about Shaun's current projects, including the most radical act he ever witnessed, read the rest of the interview here.