Four spoken-word artists gave award-winning voice to the spirit of diversity at this year’s FusionFest multicultural festival, winning a total of $1,200 in jury prizes for their ability to turn heritage into poetry. Two winners were picked for each day of the weekend event, which returned to downtown Orlando November 30 and December 1.
Saturday’s poetry slam was won by Dennis Amadeus, a German-born word artist whose ethnic roots are also in Mali, Africa. Amadeus netted a $500 award for the piece he performed, which criticized the culture of America for putting “more people in prison than any other country.” His impressions of FusionFest, in contrast, were nothing but positive:
“The poets and slam organizers were top-notch!” Amadeus says. “They were on time, clear and great hosts! The poetry was beautiful, and it’s so refreshing to hear some of the voices from other cultures and countries.”
Also on Saturday, Edward P. Mabrey Jr. was named the winner of the day’s haiku contest, earning $100 for a piece that acknowledged past injustices while looking forward with optimism:
An old noose hangs
from a tree, now a tire swing
Hope gets recycled
An Ohio-born black American, Mabrey was a slam winner at 2018’s inaugural FusionFest, and returned this year to claim a prize in the haiku category. He has high marks for both installments of the festival he’s witnessed so far:
“The diversity represented at the event both in front and behind the scenes is remarkable,” Mabrey says. “It is a vital force in the community of Orlando, and will no doubt play a role in bringing communities together within the Orlando region.”
On Sunday, the slam champion was Eddie Figures, a Puerto Rican poet who was born in Huntington, New York, but spent some time living on the island before settling in Orlando in 2001. His $500 award-winning piece was entitled “Scratching The Sound of History.”
“It’s a performance history poem designed to show people what history looks like from a different perspective,” Figures says. “It’s very easy to tell history from the point of view of the victors and completely ignore the victims. And this piece is designed to shed light on that.
“The slam was fun,” he says of his experience. “I participated last year and I enjoyed it so much I competed again this year.”
Sunday’s haiku contest was topped by Amy Pho, a Vietnamese American who looked toward her own family for the inspiration for her winning piece:
She tells me, “Ba noi
sợ quá.” It means “I’m afraid.”
I am too, grandma.
“I definitely did not expect to win the haiku slam,” Pho says. “My favorite parts were performing in front of my mom and her telling me she related to my poems after, as well as revisiting my heritage with her. Getting to wear the traditional outfit of Vietnam, the Áo dài, was also a really cool experience. I always hated doing it as a kid, but wearing it to celebrate my culture was a new experience I loved.”
This year’s FusionFest attracted approximately 15,000 people to downtown Orlando to celebrate the poetry, dance, food, fashion and other cultural expressions of more than 100 local heritage communities. The festival will return to the Seneff Arts Plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Orlando City Hall Commons Plaza for its third edition, scheduled for November 28 and 29, 2020. For more information, visit: fusionfest.org
FusionFest is a project of the Downtown Arts District, with support from Orange County Government, the Orlando Downtown Development Board and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. In its inaugural edition, the event received the Award of Excellence in the Downtown Orlando Partnership’s Golden Brick Awards, and took first place in the “Community Outreach Program” category of the Florida Festivals and Events Association’s SunSational Awards.
For media inquiries, contact:
Terry Olson, Director of Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs
[email protected]; (407) 836-5540; or:
Thali Sugisawa, Business Maven, FusionFest
[email protected]; (407) 574-1312