Bomani Armah is a poet, musician and performer in Washington, DC. He is a father who homeschools his children, and is deeply involved in education as a means for empowerment. I had the pleasure of encountering his creative work when I lived in DC, and I've been a fan ever since.
Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.
I am a creative for living, doing poetry, and working as a hip-hop emcee and a music producer full time. I love the creative process, and have hosted open mics my entire adult life. I feel that my creativity in parenting comes from the same place. The fact that I love the process, and love seeing the process of discovery and creativity play out in my children is coolest thing.
What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?
I was afraid that being a parent would cut into my creative time, and it has, but it has added to creativity. I am newly inspired by seeing the world through my children's eyes, trying to explain the world to my children, and creating the world I want my children to live in. That has completely added to my creativity.
What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?
My normal day is usually teaching one creative writing class at an elementary school, a recording session at my studio with a client, and hosting an open mic or performing solo or with my band that night. Fortunately I can take my children with me to most of these events, and I love having them there. Otherwise, I've coordinated with some really good friends and family to keep my children while I engage in my creativity. In short, it's much the same, just more planned out.
How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?
I don't sleep. Literally, I'm the first one awake and the last one asleep in my house. Fortunately, I also get to be creative with my children, so I get the best of both worlds.
What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?
I think I just became even more keenly aware of my social responsibility. That doesn't even mean that I Òpreach" more in my art, but I try to tell stories that get everyone to empathize with [each other]. I want that kind of empathy and sympathy for my children.
What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?
I tell my children that every profession is a creative one. Science, engineering, politics, it doesn't matter. It all requires being able to think outside of the norm in order for them to advance. I used to be afraid that I wouldn't be able to prepare my children for more technical careers if that is how they are so inclined, but I have learned a lot about the commonality between art and every other profession, and have much more confidence in my ability to find ways they relate and help my children using them.
Do you talk to them (if age appropriate) about the role of creativity in their lives?
All day, every day. My children are homeschooled so I'm blessed to be constantly in that conversation.
In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger?
I think I can relate to younger people better. The 9-year-old mind is the most creative thing you can find. Even with their limited knowledge and experience, their yearning to experiment and explore is amazing, and it rubs off on me. It's also great to have a 9-year-old ask you questions, because they notice the things that we have become numb to as adults, and force you to look at the world you've become accustomed to in a new light.
In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?
Being a parent has made me more focused. Everything gets done at a higher level, including my artistry.
Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?
I really admire Secret Agent 23 Skiddoo. He's a hip-hop artist who has incorporated his parenting and family into his art. He now puts out great children's hip-hop albums, something I plan on doing soon.
What do your children think of your creative work?
My sons love it. I'm expecting them to grow out of loving it at any moment, but they still rap along to everything, and try to learn to play my music. They are also my most honest critics. One of the many reasons I love them.
Do you think creative communities are friendly to children and parents and encourage their presence? Are there any ways these communities could improve?
Here in Washington, DC, they are really supportive. I've heard differently elsewhere. I think here they have no choice. At every open mic or festival concert I see one of my favorite local artist getting ready to hit the stage with their child in tow. We take community really seriously, and that community must include our children.
How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?
Being a parent made me respect my time and other people's time more, so I have less tolerance for the stereotypically late musician or artist. That's probably a great thing.
Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.
I'm assuming that since I'm a man, and not married, that when people see me with my children they must think it's Òmy weekend." They don't know that I have them full time and I home school. I bring in cupcakes we've made for a group event and everyone assumes they were made by mom. Nothing big though.
Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?
Yes. I think that would happen naturally, but also my art has always been about family and community, even before I had children. I had plenty of fans who were just waiting for me to have children.
Do you have any more thoughts to share with other prospective or current parents about preserving and nurturing one's own creative efforts while raising children?
If you're a true artist, parenting will probably mark the beginning of your true artistry instead of the end. If you can figure out how to manage your time, your art only gets better!