You know it’s Tamika Harper by the sound of her shoes.
Coming down the stairs of her mother’s home on Westmoor Drive on Atlanta’s west side, they make a big noise. Compared with the black leather Roman sandal-stilettos that laced halfway up her legs when she made her Broadway debut last year, these tan strap pumps are elfin. But they’ve still got drama.
So when Harper, who uses the stage name Georgia Me, finally appears in the room, she fills it as certainly as the overstuffed floral chairs and the bookcase of family photographs behind her. Her lips glisten. Her dress is paisley. Her hair spills onto her shoulders in Rapunzel-like corkscrews.
“My look sells me more than anything else in the world,” says the 27-year-old star of “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam,” which arrives at the Fox Theatre on Thursday, “because people think: ‘How dare this big black girl think she’s beautiful!?’ And then on top of that, I am!”
After years of self-doubt, Harper, who stands 5-feet-10 and weighs more than 200 pounds, seems to have come to terms with her size. In poems like “Full Figure Potential: A fat girls blues” and “Nig-gods,” both of which are showcased in the Tony Award-winning “Def Poetry Jam,” the Booker T. Washington High School graduate and self-described “ghetto belle from the ’hood” sings a song of herself - with no apologies.
“GA Me,” or Georgia Me, is an acronym for her life’s credo: “God’s apostle, moving everyone.”
Since her conversion to poetry in 1998, the Bankhead Highway gadabout has played the Aspen Comedy Festival, toured Europe with “Def Poetry Jam” and performed on the 2003 Tony Awards program. She has done readings with Danny Glover, Phylicia Rashad and Jeffrey Wright and, while in Scotland with “Def Poetry,” was invited to appear in “The Vagina Monologues.” Her work has just been published in “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway” (Atria, $20), a book of poems and interviews.
She was more recently featured in The New Word Order Word Warriors Tour
June 21st through August 6th 2008.
September catch The Queen of Spoken Word in an additional 30 performances nationwide with Treasures Entertainment. Dubbed The Largest Spoken Word tour in America. Produced by Prysmatic Dreams and costaring
Max Parthas & Tribal Raine. Collectivelly recognized as Maximmum Impact
Next Harper wants to pursue a career in TV, film and writing - and dreams of running for political office. “I’m like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” she says. “Only I can speak English.”
A major force in Atlanta’s vibrant spoken-word scene, making appearing at places like Club 112. In 2001, this fan of Nikki Giovanni and Goodie Mob was named Poetry Slam Champion of Atlanta.
After appearing three times on “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” HBO’s Peabody Award-winning spoken-word series, Harper joined the 10-member company that took the show to Broadway. The event got rave reviews and signaled that this urban-incubated, hip-hop-influenced poetry style was finally gaining acceptance as a legitimate art form. A visceral combination of the personal and the political, of the anger of alienation and the urgent rush of empowerment, “Def Poetry Jam on Broadway” meant that the world was finally listening to folks like Georgia Me.
“I gave my all, and poetry gave me what it could give,” she says. “It’s my weapon and it’s my wealth.”
“I don’t do a poetry project without calling her first,” says producer Stan Lathan, who partners with Simmons on the HBO and Broadway shows. “There are two or three poets that are the go-to poets, and she’s absolutely one of them,” says Lathan, a prominent TV director whose credits include the pilots for “Martin” and “Moesha.” “I can’t imagine a ‘Def Poetry’ show without Tamika. She kind of defines what ‘Def Poetry’ is all about.”
In 2000, when Lathan began putting together “Def Poetry” for HBO, he solicited a video of Atlanta poets. One of them was Harper.
“Tamika was a lock the minute her tape started to play,” Lathan recalls. “It was like a revelation, seeing this woman and seeing not only her command of the language and her ability to express feelings, but just her presence and her stature.”
She went to New York and was immediately cast. Today Lathan says he and Simmons want to develop new projects for Harper. “The sky is the limit,” he says. “She can go to the top.” Wendell Brock