Poet Melania Luisa Marte Celebrates Black Identity in "Plantains and Our Becoming"

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Alejandro Pérez
Alejandro Pérez

Melania Luisa Marte. Remember the name, because soon it may be difficult not to. The self-described weaver of words, culture shifter, and Earth-lover will release her first book of poetry, "Plantains and Our Becoming," on Aug. 22 through Penguin Random House. In the book, Marte beautifully describes how she pays homage to her Afro-Latinx roots. She brings these stories to the forefront to create a poetic revolution all her own.

"Through the exploration of themes like self-love, nationalism, displacement, generational trauma, and ancestral knowledge, this collection uproots stereotypes while creating a new joyous vision for Black identity and personhood."

"'Plantains and Our Becoming' looks at the identities and histories of the Dominican Republic and Haiti to celebrate and center the Black diasporic experience," Marte says. "Through the exploration of themes like self-love, nationalism, displacement, generational trauma, and ancestral knowledge, this collection uproots stereotypes while creating a new joyous vision for Black identity and personhood."

The Dominican American writer, poet, and musician is a native New Yorker and lives between Dallas and the Dominican Republic. Marte had her first break in 2019 with her viral poem "Afro-Latina." The piece was featured on Instagram's IGTV for National Poetry Month and garnered over nine million views. Her career took off as she journeyed from the web to the White House, performing for President Joe Biden's Virtual Celebration of Afro-Latino Heritage in 2022.

The seeds of poetry were planted early on in Marte's life. From the early age of 6, she was already expressing herself through poems. Marte found inspiration through her cousin Massiel, who wrote love poems as a teenager. But it was a middle school field trip to a historic New York City poetry club on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that really changed her life."My humanities teacher took us on a 'field trip' to the Nuyorican Poets Café," Marte recalls. "I instantly fell in love with spoken word and knew that one day I wanted to perform poetry on stages around the world."

Marte knew that her dream of becoming a professional poet was not going to happen overnight. But the desire to pursue this passion was ignited on that field trip and continued blazing into her early 20s. She was working administrative temp jobs by day and working on her poetry by night and on weekends. The open-mic stages around New York City were the platforms she used to grow as a performance poet. By 2018, she took that practice to the Dallas Poetry Slam in Texas, where she received love from the audience and encouragement from other poets to continue putting in the work and evolving as an artist.

"I was encouraged by the other poets to continue coming back and competing for a chance to get on the slam team and compete against other poets from around the country," Marte shares. "I then began learning about the behind-the-scenes hustle that other poets did to make a living off of poetry."

She began performing at different venues, which helped her gain the support of organizations like Button Poetry, Women of the World Poetry Slam, and Write About Now Poetry. Marte's poems began circulating on social media and YouTube, and she continued growing in popularity. Her words were reaching a new audience, and it was only the beginning. "This is where the big opportunities of touring at universities, creating content for social media campaigns, and working as a full-time writer and performer began for me," she says.

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Vi-An Nguyen

Fast-forward to today and Marte is gearing up to release her first book, something that began with a plantain. "I began writing this collection while I was staring at some plantains that were growing in my backyard in the Dominican Republic," she recalls. "I spent months just letting nature speak to me, and out of those conversations bloomed a collection of poems that I hope will inspire folks to find meaning in the uncomfortable, or find grace within their stories, and to revel in their roots and bloom."

Marte has understood from the start that her talent is much greater than herself. It is a gift to be shared with the world and yet still so personally enriching for her own soul. "To me, writing gives us room to make sense of all the waves of life. I say often that poetry is a root and a root is meant to ground. To grind your expectations, your ill wishes, your dead ends," she says. "We can always find our way back to ourselves through storytelling. Poetry to me is a living, breathing ecosystem. Poetry is something that lives within us."

"My heritage and my desire to help folks connect to themselves has been the core of my work as an artist."

Marte adds: "My heritage and my desire to help folks connect to themselves has been the core of my work as an artist. I want folks to identify with each other and to see the links between their Afro-descendencia and to be proud of it. It's messy and chaotic sometimes, but that too is a part of the journey. We are unraveling and we need to remember to leave room and grace for ourselves to dance in the puddles and hold the mud within our hands and shape it into all the beautiful tools we thought were missing but were right here all along."

Marte is a living, breathing testament to what can bloom from puddles and mud. She knows that with every word she writes she's being guided by her benevolent ancestors, celebrating each step she takes forward in her journey as a storyteller. And at the center of it all is love.

"Ultimately, to me, this collection is centered on love. Love for self. Love for ancestors, and love for community," she says. "My hope is that folks read this collection and are inspired to unpack their own traumas and aches and pour love back into themselves and their stories and their tribes."