Poet Manal Younus Tells it like it is

Manal Younus is an Adelaide-based spoken word artist and writer. She has received many accolades for her community and advocacy work but is best known for her thought provoking and politically driven performances.

This year, at only 22 years of age, Younus was nominated for South Australian Young Person of the year.

Younus was twice a national finalist at the National Poetry Slam and while she no longer competes, still performs all around the country. She also works with Act Now Theatre which through performance and drama, helps high school students to develop resilience and practical skills in responding to racism.

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Younus was born in Eritrea and immigrated to Australia when she was three years old. From what she remembers, Eritrea is “up in the clouds”, a place where at the moment she cannot return.

Her family are activists and to return to Eritrea would be to go against everything she believes in. “So I think,” she says, “is it worth it?” Younus has been writing ever since she can remember and started participating in slam poetry during her teenage years.

“Spoken word is the freest form,” she says. “Once you have developed your style there are no rules or restrictions. The stuff I used to write was quite personal but as time went on I began thinking more politically and my work became about being young, about prejudice and being Muslim in Australia. In the past few years, what I wrote about changed again and I focused on decolonial thinking and finding ways to change perspectives of ourselves. Now I just focus on telling the story and allowing it to come out honestly.”

Younus has been involved in creating and hosting regular poetry events, recently launching a monthly poetry night in partnership with the SA Writers Centre: ’Soul Lounge’. “I have seen the barriers for people who want to get into spoken word because in general, the stories are all white stories, presented to white people,” she says.

“At ‘Soul Lounge’ we are normalising who we are. The crowd is really diverse; anyone can step to the mic. I know there is so much talent in our minority communities but we are constantly being told that things are not ours.”

On October 20th, Younus will deliver a TedX talk at the Adelaide Town Hall, the focus of which will be her work as an artist, but also detailing how she hopes to empower her community in the future.

“I will talk about my own things in my own terms,” she says.

“I will talk about growth and where I can see that happening, the generation above and the differences in our communities. I feel like I have always been here, because I came so young, but others who came to Australia when they were older have a very different experience to me.

They see themselves as the ‘other’. That’s why migrants are so connected to where they are from. We are born into those identity crises: we have never had a place or been in a place, in terms of both time and a physical space, where we have been normal.”

Prejudice towards Muslims is an important national conversation for her, one that is finally being recognised. Younus has appeared on several panels including the ABC program, Q & A, where her unique perspective helped to elevate the profile on institutionalised racism.

“When Pauline Hanson delivered her maiden speech in the senate I wasn’t surprised,” she says.

“None of what she is saying is new. I think it was under the rug and now that rug has been lifted. It’s exhausting, I’m exhausted, we are all exhausted, but we were exhausted before this. At least now, when we speak about racism in schools, we are talking about the government and what they are saying. I know how much we can delude ourselves into thinking the world is changing. I realised, come election day, that people are campaigning against Muslims, and just because I hang around with lefties, as soon as I step outside of my community I see the truth.”

For many years, Younus acted as Assistant National Director of Welcome to Australia, an organisation assisting new migrants and refugees coming to Australia. This work encouraged many young people to see her as a spokesperson for the inclusion of new arrivals and refugees, but for the time being, she wants to focus on her art and supporting her communities in finding their own voices.

“I realise that representation is a big part of empowerment and ownership, but I stopped working with new arrivals a while ago, because I didn’t know where to step in that conversation,” she says.

“I think we neglect our communities by trying to change the minds of everyone else, but the way we try and change people’s minds is not by telling it like it is. We try and ease them into this idea of change. So much energy and resources go into that. Now, I am about empowering our communities, and if change happens in the wider community then great.”

Manal Younus will speak as part of TEDxAdelaide 2016: Metamorphosis on Thursday, October 20 event information and tickets can be found at eventbrite.com.au

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