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Meet Shihan Van Clief

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shihan Van Clief.

Shihan, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I’m a father of three and husband of 1. I’m also a full-time creative artist. Originally from New York, I relocated to LA a long time ago and now, I’ve been a part of the Los Angeles Poetry scene for the past 25 years. My first open mic was a spot called The Juke Joint on Melrose. It was hosted by Roni Walters a.k.a. PoetRoniGirl, who became my poetry mentor. The first night I read my story, when I walked off stage, I was approached by Dante Basco and Poetri Smith who became my brothers in art and life and superfriends. Not long after we met Gimel Hooper a.k.a. Brutha Gimel and shortly after that, I got hurt playing basketball and relocated to Dante’s living room couch where I lived for a few months.

During that time 96-97, we would host regular open mics at the house. After a while, the open mic at the house became successful to a point that it needed a new location because as cool as it is to host a spot in your home, people start wearing out their welcome. So, it moved. It landed at a club on Melrose as part of a hip hop night and Dante’s Poetry Lounge was born. Dante’s schedule became busier and I started helping to host, which at the time I hated. At some point, Dante, Poetri, Gimel and myself had a meeting at Johnny Rocket’s at the Beverly Connection and decided to come together to create Da Poetry Lounge. And in June of 1998, Da Poetry Lounge was born. Now, 21 years later, Da Poetry Lounge is the largest weekly open mic in the country.

We’d love to hear more about your artwork. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I write and tell stories. I believe our stories are valid and important and necessary. I speak passionately from the perspective of a Black father, husband, friend, and person who experiences the range of emotion. My stories come from a place of honesty. My hope is people sense the passion of which I speak and are inspired to share their stories as well. I have no control over how people interpret my work, my hope is they can feel it’s the truth.

What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
Work on your craft. Give it a dedicated space and time to be worked on. Writing is an exercise, you have to work it out ’til it gets worked out. And as a performer, don’t fall in love with the applause. Audiences clap for anyone with the courage to get on stage. And lastly, surround yourself with folks who inspire you. You want to be able to learn and grow with folks and there should be given and receive in every relationship.

Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Currently, they can see me at Da Poetry Lounge every Tuesday. Though, this is my final year hosting DPL. After which Jasmine Williams, will be taking over the reins and taking it to its next destination. They can support me by supporting DPL by attending and listening to the stories on our mic. I’m at a place in my career where helping others is the priority.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Fisseha Moges and Neil Raja

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