Announcing 2018 DC Poet Project Winner John Johnson

Saturday May 5th, at the Anacostia Branch of the DC Public Library, more than eighty poetry lovers listened to DC Poet Project finalists John Johnson, Monica Leak, Jeffrey Banks, Shaquetta Nelson, and Aiy’ana Ford, and voted to select one winner. When all the votes were counted, and the dust had settled: John Johnson is the 2018 DC Poet Project winner.

Day Eight will be publishing a book of Johnson’s poetry, and we’re looking for artwork by a dc artist to put on the cover. Submit an image or your whole portfolio/website for consideration using the form here. 

Check out videos of Johnson reading his poetry here, here, and here.

Below is a brief interview with 2018 DC Poet Project winner John Johnson.

* * * * * * * * *

Robert Bettmann: Congratulations on your success in the DC Poet Project! This isn’t the first time you’ve emerged, though, right? My understanding is that you were part of a project with WAMU called Anacostia UnMapped. Can you tell us a little about that?

John Johnson: Anacostia Unmapped is a project in which neighbors interview other neighbors in Anacostia. I was one of the primary interviewers and sat down with about 20 folks on their porches, and in their living rooms and kitchens — and while they cooked bacon – so they could share stories of the beauty and challenges of Anacostia and life East of the river. I learned quite a bit, particularly from the older residents; they are living history books. My interviews were cut into small segments and played on American University’s NPR radio station, WAMU. Some of the stories are also online at

RB: You’re also involved in the world of theater, and as an arts educator?

John Johnson: I’m a Native Washingtonian, and a graduate from the University of the District of Columbia. I love telling the stories of DC new comers, old timers, and in-betweeners, using poetry and theatre. My BA is in Theatre Arts, and over the last two years I’ve gotten very involved in a type of improvisational theater storytelling called “Playback Theatre.” With Playback Theatre, I’m able to help visualize for audiences the stories of seniors in the community, and to help preserve the culture of the African Americans that still live in this rapidly changing city of Washington, D.C.

2018 DC Poet Project winner John Johnson performing with his Playback Theatre group at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, February 2018; photo by J. Micheal Whalen

RB: I know you consider yourself a performer as much as or maybe even more than a traditional poet. When did you start writing down your poetry?

John Johnson: I remember not being the best with grammar and from a young age found poetry liberating, because it had fewer rules and regulations. Run on sentences could run marathons as long as they had meaning and conveyed emotions. I liked seeing fewer red marks on my paper (in the 6th grade) and find poetry a more concise technique for expressing human emotion. I think Twitter is like a modern day form of a Haiku that has broken the 5/7/5 structure. My theatre background also influences my writing because I’m super focused on telling a story. Beginning, middle and end is the cadence of every piece I write. Performance is like the second half of building a poem, like the drywall and paint on the walls of a poem.

RB: I know your family is important to you – your wife, and your girls – and some of your poetry relates to that. How does being a father influence your work as a theater artist, poet, and educator?

John Johnson: Being a father has definitely influenced my poetry. My children and family are my life, and they motivate me in ways I am still discovering… they bring out my creativity, and require my full attention. When my girls look me in the eyes I see my reflected image in them, and the confidence and trust they have in me. This is the fuel of Fatherhood. Piggyback rides are the fun part, returning emails and creating proposals and sending invoices at 1 am because everyone is finally asleep is the challenging part. A father is who I am, and it bleeds into all aspects of my life as an artist, poet and educator. My children now come and listen to me at poetry events, and participate in some of my workshops at schools. They are truly a blessing, as well as an echo into the future I will never see.

Through his DC Poet Project win, this summer Day Eight will be publishing John Johnson’s first book of poetry. Check back on our site soon for more information about his book and connected book launch events.

Announcing the 2018 DC Poet Project Finalists

This past weekend, poets Alan King and E. Ethelbert Miller selected DC poets Jeffery Banks and Monica Leak as finalists for the spring 2018 DC Poet Project, completing the grouping. At earlier events, John Johnson, Aiyi’nah Ford, and Shaquetta Nelson, were selected.

Join the finalists at the culminating event May 5th, 2:00pm – reserve tickets here. At the culminating event each finalist will read their poetry for fifteen minutes. At the very end, the audience will live vote to select the series winner, who receives a book contract including $500 cash prize.

Read about last year’s DC Poet Project winner, Susan Meehan, on NPR here.

Bios of the Spring 2018 Finalists:

John Johnson is a native Washingtonian and graduated from the University of the District of Columbia. He is a poet and playwright and has dedicated his work to capturing the narratives of African Americans that live in Washington DC. He recently has finished a project capturing the stories of residences east of the river called Anacostia Unmapped which can be explored at

Aiyi’nah Ford simplifies her life’s work as an endeavor to expose the truth of the collectively oppressed. A native Washingtonian, she has experience in social justice advocacy, community organizing, and art-ivist expression has helped raise awareness and change legislation on the local and federal level. She is Executive Director of The Future Foundation, where her leadership development and popular education facilitation help pave the way for leader-full youth in this city, and across the Nation. She is also Founding C.E.O. of STAND Omnimedia™, a digital media brand with a mission to “STAND with and amplify the voices and cultures that are often silenced.” She hosts “The One Mic Stand with SimplyNay” and has published “#SucessfullySingle: Confessions Of A Professional Dater.” When she is not fighting for our collective liberation, she is sipping loose leaf tea and wearing a #supportisFREE™ t-shirt.

Shaquetta Nelson, better known by her stage name R.E.I.L (real), is a poetic, creative visionary. Founder of R.E.I.L.4.R.U.D.D nonprofit organization, and Harmony’s Harmony wood burn collections. R.E.I.L started at local open mics such as Spit Dat, and Bus Boys and Poets. At 16 was 1/4 of Maryland first slam team competing in NYC for Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam. REIL seeks inspiration from past, and present life experiences to help the lives of other unsung souls.

Jeffrey Banks is poetically known as “Big Homey.” He’s worked with notable people such as the late Fred “Rerun” Berry of What’s Happening!, Gospel Singer Maurette Brown Clark, GRAMMY-Nominated Soul Singer and Television Star Syleena Johnson, New Jack City Actor and Singer Christopher Williams, Gospel Trailblazer Dr. Bobby Jones & others. He’s been featured in national media such as ESSENCE Magazine, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Radio-One Inc., the CBS Early Show and BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine. Big Homey’s album, Exposed-The EP, is the poetic testimonial of the trials & victories of a Christian Believer. He’s had the opportunity to perform across the USA & has done numerous engagements on East Coast college campuses. He’s also an event planner, and was named one of the “Top 40 under 40” American Meeting Planners of 2013 by Rejuvenate Magazine. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech Communication from Syracuse University, an Event Management Graduate Degree from the George Washington University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Howard University. He’s been a grant writer since 2008, and was licensed as a minister in 2010. He’s a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

Monica Leak is a graduate of Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders, South Carolina State University with a Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology and North Carolina Central University with a Master’s of Library Science. She is the editor and a contributing writer of, Faith of our Founders 100 Daily Devotionals to Inspire, Encourage and Propel the Finer Woman. She contributed writings for lenten devotionals The Road to Calvary Surviving a Season of Suffering and Resipiscence, a Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy. She currently works as a speech-language pathologist in southern Maryland, and as a seminary librarian in northern Virginia.

Space is limited. Reserve your tickets for the final event here.