What's Good, Fam? I'm Terisa.
Most people find themselves here because of my poetry. You've seen one of my poems online or read my work in your class. You saw me give a keynote speech at your conference or you participated in a workshop I led at your organization. Or maybe you're just wanting to know when I dyed my hair blonde (December 7, 2017) or who's my favorite writer (my grandpa). Whatever the reason: I'm glad you're here.
Before you scroll any further to my "official bio" and start exploring my site, let me welcome you to this space myself. The important stuff that you must know, off top, is that I was born, raised, and rep the Bay Area (all day), I come from a big, beautiful Samoan family (although I'm an only child) and am deeply devoted to my Pacific Islander community across the diaspora, and when I'm not on a stage, in a classroom, or behind a microphone, you can catch me Face timing with my nephews. Or ambitiously trying to read more than one book at a time (right now I'm reading Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown and They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib). Or you can find me in the kitchen cooking, as Whitney Houston's "Lover for Life" plays on repeat in the background. I'm big on education (most first-generation college students are), and was introduced to spoken word poetry when I was 18 years old in my dorm room at UC Santa Cruz. Years spent falling in love with poetry taught me that as therapeutic as writing/performing is: it's not therapy. So instead of getting an MFA in Poetry or Creative Writing, I received my Masters in Marriage/Family Therapy from USC (Fight On). I travel the country and world committed to the notion that our well-being and health are dependent upon us writing and telling our stories. The only thing more transformative than this is creating opportunities so that others can do the same. As you're here, I invite you to explore my site, engage with my work, check out where I'll be speaking next, contact me about collaborating together, or even share something you've learned here with someone who may need to experience it too. I'll leave you with this writing prompt if you feel inspired to take it on:
Terisa Siagatonu is an award-winning poet, teaching artist, mental health educator, and community leader born and rooted in the Bay Area. Her presence in the poetry world as a queer Samoan woman and activist has granted her opportunities to perform and speak in places ranging from the White House (during the Obama administration) to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France. The most memorable moment in her career was receiving President Obama’s Champion of Change Award in 2012 for her activism as a spoken word poet/organizer in her Pacific Islander community.
With numerous viral poetry videos garnering over millions of views collectively, Terisa's writing blends the personal, cultural, and political in a way that calls for healing, courage, justice, and truth. A Kundiman Fellow, her work has been published in Poetry Magazine and has been featured on Button Poetry, CNN, NBCNews, NPR, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and Upworthy.
Since the beginning of Terisa's poetry slam involvement in 2010, she has been a member of several award winning slam teams, including the 2017 inaugural Root Slam Team, helping her team to place 5th in the nation at the National Poetry Slam competition in Denver, CO. When she's not competing, she is coaching college poetry slam teams and mentoring young writers in writing workshops throughout the country. Terisa is one of the co-founders and organizers of The Root Slam, a free bi-weekly poetry venue based in Oakland, CA, voted the 2017 and 2018's Best Open Mic venue in the Bay Area.
Offstage, Terisa creates and facilitates workshops, leads artistic and professional development trainings, provides mental health clinical support, and delivers keynote speeches across the country on issues that inform her 10+ years of community work involving: youth advocacy, educational attainment, Pacific Islander/Indigenous rights, climate change, LGBTQQIA rights, gender-based violence, and others. She holds a Bachelors degree in Community Studies and minor in Education from the University of California- Santa Cruz and a Masters Degree in Marriage/Family Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC), aiming to use her background as a mental health clinician and poet to bridge the gaps in our quest for collective healing and liberation.