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Member Spotlight: Olu Butterfly Woods & Dewmore
23 October 2019 - Irene Bantigue

Since its founding in 2013, local literary nonprofit DewMore has been a critical resource for young poets in Baltimore. It organizes one of Maryland’s largest youth poetry festivals, holds workshops at schools, and helps young poets practice for national poetry slams.

DewMore’s parent organization is Poetry for the People, founded by IHB member Olu Butterfly Woods. Olu reflects on the indispensable role that poetry and art has in civic engagement.

Many think of writing as an individualistic experience. But for Olu, it’s very much communal. Joining Baltimore’s underground hip hop scene in her early adult years, she constantly ran into and collaborated with other writers.

Inspired by that community, she co-founded Poetry for the People Baltimore, an organization that intersects poetry and civic engagement.

“There was no specific agenda so much as…how can we get our art to be more useful to people?” she says.

For Olu, poetry and community work have always been inseparable. Ten years ago she co-founded the Baltimore Citywide Youth Poetry Team using personal funds and meeting with community members in living rooms.

“I consider the community my real boss,” she says. “That’s who’s in charge.” 

Poetry for the People is the parent organization of DewMore, the local literary nonprofit that has also taken the Youth Poetry Team under its wing. Much of DewMore’s service is also oriented towards young people. Every year it organizes one of Maryland’s largest youth poetry festivals in April for National Poetry Month. The nonprofit also hosts workshops throughout the city and holds a monthly open mic at Impact Hub run by teenage poets, who draw the fliers and come up with the themes. 

“It’s a form of development for the young people that are involved…a platform for their voices and other people’s voices,” Olu says. 

This past July, the Youth Poetry Team went to Las Vegas to perform at international youth poetry slam, Brave New Voices.  In the weeks leading up the slam they did what Olu calls “bootcamp” – gathering in a small office at IHB and practicing their poetry. Towards the end of the bootcamp they were practicing eight hours every day. Olu tells the team not to think of the slam as a competition. Still, the team won the top prize at the slam last year for the second time in three years.

Impact Hub has been an important communal space for Olu and her team since 2018. “Having a central location where we can have a staff meeting is invaluable,” she says. Their office has also become a drop-off and pick-up point for community members. She credits Impact Hub with giving her a space to collaborate and build new relationships — some of which happen informally. 

“There’s other people who are doing parallel and intersecting work…who knows what those relationships may result in in the future?” Olu says. “It’s encouraging to see other people doing work that affirms the work that you do.” 

Going forward, Olu wants to be more robust in engaging the community. “If you’re going to be sustainable you’re looking to diversify how you sustain yourselves,” she says. “Not just with grants, but to do more events or opportunities for the community to support and services…I’d like to be a point of continuity for people. When they think of Baltimore, they know that DewMore is there.”