Still Breathing: Spoken Word Artist G Yamazawa

Angry Asian Intern™ Cara Van Le interviews award-winning poet and performer George "G" Yamazawa.

Born and raised by Japanese immigrants in Durham, North Carolina, George Masao Yamazawa, Jr., or "G" for short, didn't always have it easy growing up. Other kids made fun of the shape of his eyes or called him Chinese, even after he corrected them. His relationship with his strict father wasn't always easy. It was, at times, abusive. His best friend passed away when he was in junior high. At 16, he was expelled from from school, and that's when G began to explore his family's religion, Buddhism, more deeply to fight his depression.

"Buddhism is basically what kept me afloat and invigorated me to find a passion that gave my life worth," he says. "That's when I found my love for poetry and the use of my voice."

He found a small poetry community in Durham/Chapel Hill and competed at Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry festival when he was 17. And he hasn't stopped since.

It's hard for G to name a pivotal moment in his life as a poet and performer. There was his performance at Temple University in 2010, where he performed in front of 11,000 people for a Buddhist performing arts festival, bringing his religious beliefs and his art into one space. There was his recent Europe tour with other poets from Durham. This year, he also received a fellowship from Kundiman, a program dedicated to the creation of Asian American poetry. And, last year, G also took first prize at Kollaboration DC -- a distinction usually held by musicians.

Winning Kollaboration in DC and getting the subsequent Audience Choice award in Kollaboration LA meant more than performing poetry. For G, it was also about being an Asian American artist. Kollaboration, whose mission is to empower the Asian American community through entertainment, boasts itself as the "largest Asian American talent competition." So, naturally, when G took the stage, his immediate reaction was, "AHHHH! SO MANY ASIAN PEOPLE!"

As daunting as the task seemed, G also felt comfort in performing to this audience. It was his opportunity to do what he loves most, and what he kept saying in his head throughout the performance: "Connect with the people, connect with the people." Also, "Don't mess this up, yo."

So how does G write poems? It's as simple as math: 90% thinking, 10% writing. "Everything we see, hear, smell, touch, and experience is a poem, and writing is just a way we can remember those moments forever." He finds inspiration in "trying to notice beauty, and keeping faith in the potential of all living things."

And for those of you looking to write poems, G has some simple advice: Do what you love. Search for your passion, and explore how your passions can create value in society. "Strive to the best in the world," but remember "that this is all bigger than you."

G practices what he preaches. When asked if there were anything he wanted us to know, he responded honestly:

"I smoke cigarettes. I'm self-centered. I'm self-conscious. I'm defensive. I'm impatient. I'm stubborn. Most days I don't have enough courage to wake up in the morning. But I'm growing, I'm learning, I'm failing and trying again, and I'm grateful for every breath that allows me another chance to change my poisons into medicine and enjoy this life with you all."

G is currently working on a hip hop EP to be released next summer, and piecing together an hour-long set for college booking. After that, he's off to Japan to "build the bridge between there and the States." Also, he's writing a book. Also, producing a one-man show. Also, working with youth. Learning how to cook. Getting better at beat boxing. Practicing his dunk (shoutout to J. Lin). And, hopefully, breathing.

G Yamazawa

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