Paducah native, poet, performer, and educator Samuel "Snacks" Hawkins presents a virtual poetry reading hosted by the McCracken County Public Library on the evening of Wednesday, February 17th. Hawkins speaks to Tracy Ross about his career, sharing art in the age of COVID, and more.
Samuel "Snacks" Hawkins is a WKMS veteran, published author and has presented his educational and inspirational programs to thousands of audience members across hundreds of performances. Hawkins credits HBO's Def Poetry Jam and NAACP's ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics for kickstarting his interest in poetry at a young age.
Hawkins said performing was "nerve-wracking" at first. "I felt like I was going to die each time," he laughs. Despite writing every day, Hawkins would need more time to warm up to a live audience. In the age of COVID-19, Hawkins was presented with yet another challenge to overcome: performing in front of a virtual audience.
"Even during a performance, you feed off the energy of other people. The way I approached [performing during the pandemic] was to embrace the technologies...also the solitude part of it. There's a yin and yang. You have a chance to create and also a chance to share."
Since the pandemic started, Hawkins has enjoyed the learning process of performing his poetry virtually. "If you do it right, you can still have a participation and feed off the energy of others," he explains. "I did quite a few events with a company called Legacy to bring arts to the southern Illinois community."
"During those performances," Hawkins continues, "I was feeling it out. One of the things I did was ask questions and leave time in between...to actually listen. How's it going? What do you like? What direction should we go next? Giving people more interaction, so it's not like they're just watching a video, but we're interacting back and forth as well."
Hawkins finds the universally interconnected nature of art to be one of its greatest benefits. His book, This is Why Kids Wanna Stay Up Late, explores that idea further. "The inspiration behind that [book] was to implore everybody to explore their creative side...in any facet and to any level. But just do it. When we all do that, it connects us all and also opens us up to listen to one another. Art in any form is the most direct form of communication."
As poets like Amanda Gorman bring spoken word to the American mainstream, Hawkins says he enjoys the genuineness Gorman and others like her bring to the art form. Hawkins says Gorman strikes him as someone "trying to uplift in a genuine way with no ulterior motive or trying to sell something. Just authentically trying to encourage and uplift."
"I really embrace the approach of [acting] how you want to be approached. Sometimes it's like, are you trying to win an argument? Are you trying to get a one-up? You really have to check all of these things. You have to check your heart. When it's really authentically done, you can tell. You can see it. It just resonates in a way that you can't even verbalize or intellectualize."
As part of their Black History Month programming, the McCracken County Public Library hosts "Virtual McLib Live: An Evening with Samuel "Snacks" Hawkins" on Wednesday, February 17th, at 7 pm CST. "Snacks" will perform original pieces of spoken-word poetry and share excerpts from This is Why Kids Wanna Stay Up Late."
The Zoom performance is free and open to the public. Visit the McCracken County Library's website for more information, including the Zoom meeting link. For more information on Hawkins, visit his website.