24th Annual When Sisters Speak Takes Viewers on a Roller Coaster

March 9th marks the 24th annual When Sisters Speak Spoken Word Concert as part of Black Mental Health Week. We spoke with the founder of When Sisters Speak, Dwayne Morgan, a 2023 Order of Ontario appointee and two-time Canadian National Poetry Slam Champion who is an integral part of Canada’s spoken word and live arts scene. Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Godfather’ of Canadian spoken word poetry, Morgan has been providing women of color a platform to share their stories and experiences through spoken word poetry for the past 24 years. When Sisters Speak is the largest and longest running spoken word showcase featuring Black women in North America.

“When Sisters Speak takes women who are at the top of the their game in spoken word from, Toronto and different places this year and puts them on stage. Each woman has 20 minutes to share her lived realities and perspectives through the spoken word. The hope is to create this space where black women can speak about their experiences in an unfiltered, unapologetic kind of way because they are the only ones taking up that space”. 

When Sisters Speak will feature performances from 2024 Grammy nominee, Queen Sheba (Atlanta), 5-time Grammy nominee and one half of the group Floetry, The Floacist (UK), Ayanna Albertson-Gay (Orlando), Canadian National Poetry Slam Champion, Shelly Grace (Toronto), Hannah Flores (Toronto), and Shahaddah Jack (Toronto). 

When Sisters Speak actually was born from a male concept Morgan started first and was hoping someone would spearhead for women. When no one did, he provided. “I started a show called When Brothers Speak and it was same concept, just with black men. I thought that after the success of that show, someone would do a copycat women’s show and no one did. I always understood how important that kind of space would be. So when no one did it I decided to do it, and now we’ve been going for 24 years”. 

Morgan shares he’s always tried to tie the show into International Women’s Day, Women’s month and Black Mental Health Week. “This is the first year that we’ve partnered with the City of Toronto to make [the Black Mental Health Week] connection,because it’s just such a natural, easy connection. Speaking about your experiences, not holding things inside, is such a big part of mental health. I think when the women on stage are able to articulate experiences that other women have, but don’t know necessarily how to articulate, it also allows them to release some of the things that they are holding on and overall creates a healthier community”.

Morgan shares that he chooses the speakers and the roller coaster ride audiences will go on but can’t speak to what he hopes they take away. “The show doesn’t really change. The show hasn’t changed in 24 years, just the women who are on the bill change. And so every time I have to think about, ‘what is the feeling that I want people to have and what are the artists that are out there that can make that feeling’. Usually it starts with one artist who I really want to have on the show and then I build around that artist to figure out what the flow of this is going to be? Even the order that the women perform in is very specific to what I want people to experience. I make sure all of the women know there are six women. Everybody has the same amount of time, and then I put everybody in the order that I want them to perform in, in order for the audience to experience what I believe they’ll experience. I get to navigate the roller coaster ride that you’re going to be on. I kind of know who’s a bit more soft spoken, who’s a bit more hard and in your face and I can put those experiences in different places so that you’re constantly on this journey throughout the night. I really want people to have that journey of all these different experiences that that black women go through and then each individual is going to take that and make it make their own sense of it. It’s like when you go to the The museum or a gallery. Five people are going to look at a piece of art and think five different things. So I don’t want to say what people are going to think at the end and walk away with. I can tell you it’s going to be a roller coaster ride and we always try to make sure that we end with a bang so that people leave feeling elevated”.

Tickets are on sale NOW for When Sisters Speak.

Hillary LeBlanc

Hillary LeBlanc

Hillary is an Acadian-Senegalese queer woman passionate about sharing stories relating to the Black community, fashion, beauty and sustainability.