We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Javon Rustin. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Javon below.
Hi Javon, thanks for joining us today. The first dollar you earn is always exciting – it’s like the start of a new chapter and so we’d love to hear about the first time you sold or generated revenue from your creative work?
When I first started getting paid for performing poetry it was because I was opening up for Rage Almighty, a very well known poet and one of the best writers/performers in the country. He invited me to his shows when he traveled, hopefully because he liked my poems but definitely for a ride bound to be more adventurous than public transit (there was always an adventure). Me being new to Dallas in need of friends and something to do was most often free to go. He told me to make some CDs. I did and they sold. We made one together called Bleed Between the Lines. The first place we sold it was at Second Verse in San Antonio. It was a large show. Rage, a vet with soooo many poems. Me, with everything I had on this one CD. Rage tried to do this back and forth thing, stopping and starting mid-poem, which I can do NOW… But clearly could not do then. We practiced the whole way there. I think it went well. Based on the reaction, no one could tell how nervous I was. I think that was the first time I made a memorable sum of money as a performance poet. Rage Almighty became one of my closest friends during those travels. We talked poetry, jokes, politics, life. If you were lucky enough to know Rage, you know how valuable these talks were. Both the goofy and the serious. I was 21 and new to the world of real-life poetry outside of college and to this day (9 years later) consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to make friends with someone like Rage for so many reasons, both in and outside of poetry. My first two solo shows, though not as large as Second Verse, were in Dallas and Wichita, Kansas. Both were obtained after performing with Rage. That was how I started putting show sets together and selling products.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I am a poet, performer, and engineer… A writer of software, stories, and stanzas. I graduated with a degree in Computer Science from North Carolina A&T in 2013, which I know has nothing to do with writing. But I was performing the entire time I was in college, which is where I got my first glimpse of professional poets like Dasan Ahanu and Lyrically Blessed of Durham, NC. I also took classes under Dr. Ahmad and other professors who taught poetry curriculums in between the swath of math classes.
I got started writing and performing in church at a very young age. I used to write poems and comedic skits. I started slamming in poetry competitions in college after a friend (Lamar a.k.a. Subconscious) heard me in a class and told me about an event on campus. I was so nervous in my first slam, my legs were visibly shaking. I kept slamming when I moved to Dallas and eventually, under the coaching of Dallas Poetry Slam, got 17th in an Individual World Poetry Slam and wrote enough poems to perform full shows.
Today, I provide full shows of poetry with stories between poems or tying poems together. Performing gives me time away from what is usually a computer-in-the-face filled life so I love to connect with people while on stage and see if I can make anyone laugh or smile or just feel good for a moment. In this sense, I consider myself an entertainer. But I also love to educate using my software engineering experience to address diversity, professionalism, work-life balance, drive, and mental health as well as my personal stint with therapy. Outside of performing, I provide writing workshops and create and decorate personalized poems for clients as gifts or for special occasions.
Over my time as a poet, I think I am most proud of the fact that I quit my first engineering job to pursue poetry full time. It was the first time I felt like I was giving myself permission to go all out. Most days I felt I had to watch what I said, how I dress, how I wore my hair, etc. in order to look professional in the workplace (this is not true for all workplaces but definitely how I felt as Black man starting out in corporate America). As a full-time artist, I grew a mohawk and spent all my dress-clothes money on sneakers. None of which prevented me from coding and writing well enough to teach it, which I did when not performing as a full-time artist. When I finally went back into the engineering world, I had a better sense of the boundaries and requests that would need to be met in order to keep living the life that had been created. I was lucky enough to find a company that gladly goes above and beyond my requests, but I’m not sure if I would have been brave enough to make them (or even know what the requests were) had I not taken that initial leap.
Main thing for potential followers to know? I’m always interested in new projects. I apologize for being a goof-ball in advance. If you hear or read anything I write, I hope it helps or moves you as much as it does me.
Do you think there is something that non-creatives might struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can shed some light?
Surrendering more money in exchange for more freedom and support in your art endeavors. I would definitely trade a higher paying job if it took too much time away from my passion. I have quit and turned down jobs that were not flexible enough to support my time with poetry. I walked out on a job in college because they would not allow me my requested day off for a poetry slam (which I probably didn’t even win). I have seen a plethora of artists turn down steady salary jobs in favor of performing full time and I completely understand them. Someone I knew turned down a 60k salary job for a 30k art position. But they could travel and perform as much as they wanted. That sounds awesome to me. Especially if the travel is due to shows which pay for the travel. Sometimes the perks outweigh the money. Better times, the perks include the money. Everytime, poetry will be a priority and a required perk. Luckily I stumbled upon a company that supports their employees artistic sides and occasionally employs them for company use. I believe more companies are embracing the work-life balance that leads to this type of freedom, which is great for artists both professional or otherwise.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
Sometimes I love the writing. Sometimes I love the performing. I think every time I love the connection that is made with humanity, whether it’s my humanity or someone else’s. The line in the poem that makes me or someone else cry. The joke in the performance that makes the crowd laugh. The moment in a show where everyone is quiet and waiting for the next thing to happen. The way poems draw energy from the crowd that draws energy from the poets and back and forth. That type of connection is priceless and it’s only invoked by passion. I wouldn’t tell someone this and say “you have to try performing”. I’d say “you have to try to find and do your passions full out”. That’s how we connect with ourselves and others beyond the surface level. And I think that’s why we go hear people speak or perform, to feel some of their passion and take it home with us. Passion can be found in conversation, experiences, roller coasters, basketball courts, in poems, and on stages. And the shared connection it creates, whether it’s as long as a football game or short as slam poem, is vital to the human experience. We should connect with people. We should be genuinely interested and empathetic towards others. And I think having and sharing our passions is what generates that genuine interest and connection.
- Website: www.JavonRustin.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/javonrustin/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JavonRustin/
Baltimore (pic by fire graffiti art) and BooksAsOutfits (pic sitting on car) – Brittney Dubose, IG: @brittney_dubose PersonalPhoto, Close Up (on the mic) and CrowdShot – TJ Anding, IG: @mrpush4greatness PinkFlowerPicture – Tsion Mangum, @tsionmangum GreenScreen – Envision Health (Dallas, TX)