Poet Airea Dee Matthews Delivers a Message of Hope

With Holy Family’s first on-campus reader since its return to in-person learning, on Wednesday, October 27th, the HFU community anticipated hearing poet Airea Dee Matthews. Matthews was the fall’s Distinguished Writers Series guest writer.

Living close by in Philadelphia, Matthews read a wide range of poems about the human experience as this was her first in-person reading in eighteen months.  However, for the first time publicly, she challenged herself to read one of her personal essays that was “a remembrance upon a remembrance upon a remembrance” of her struggles as a young black child growing up.

As a member of a working-class family, Matthews “suffered great amounts of domestic violence and trauma.”  When she would play a game of Boggle on the floor with her mother and sister, “goodness abounded” because, as Matthews stated, “That was our life.”  She did not want to be judged or considered poor because of the color of her skin, and, as a black kid, Matthews “knew she was vulnerable to both.”  Therefore, she “bounded to do whatever was necessary to resist the implication and belong.” 

Growing up, assumptions were made that she was poor.  In an attempt to prove this assumption wrong, Matthews went out and made an expensive purchase to show that she could afford it.  However, with the item just sitting in her garage unused, Matthews wondered, “Why was I willing to go poor to prove I wasn’t poor to a woman I’d probably never see again?”  She then realized that she didn’t “have anything to prove,” leaving us with the inspirational message: Don’t let others define you, your life, or your future; define yourself!

Although Matthews went to school for Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, she “continued on doing what she thought she was supposed to do rather than what she felt like, in her heart, she was actually supposed to do.”  When Matthews returned to graduate school in her thirties, she found poetry as her true calling in life. 

After being introduced to slam poetry through some friends, she decided to start writing about other people’s lives, not her own. Matthews “had complicated feelings for a very long time and didn’t know how to address them.” She felt that she came to writing because she “had something to say and definitely felt some things that needed to be said,” but Matthews “just didn’t know how to say them until more recently.”

Today, as both a poet and teacher, Matthews travels around the country using her voice to provide much-needed hope to her audiences, especially during these difficult and unprecedented times.

Brianna Wojnar

My name is Brianna Wojnar, and I am currently a Freshman here at Holy Family University.  I am a member of the Honors Program and am majoring in Art-Graphic Design Track/Social Media Specialization and minoring in Writing and Management-Marketing.  As a resident of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, I attended Holy Cross Preparatory Academy High School and am the oldest of four kids.