Seattle Peach 100: Hollis Wong-Wear

Powerhouse poet, Hollis Wong-Wear, has known that she would always write since she first put pen to paper. As a young teen, she would furiously scribble angsty verse with colorful gel pens into a notebook filled with black pages. “I wrote when I was upset,” she says, “and I wrote when I didn’t want to talk to people, and I wouldn’t get upset super easily, but when I did get upset, I was in a huge, inarticulate funk. It would be really difficult for me to get out of it, so writing, even then, was a cathartic exercise for me. You can get addicted to that process of having some sort of creative outlet be therapeutic, so that got me hooked.”

Over time, the Petaluma, CA native discovered that poetry not only allowed her to process her emotions in a positive way, but through that process she came to know and understand herself and begin grappling with the concept of identity in the most profound of ways. As a high school student, Hollis was deeply involved in theater, and after attending a local Youth Speaks event, one of her theater buddies who knew that she was both a brilliant writer as well as performer, encouraged her to participate in the program. She got into the finals at her very first Youth Speaks poetry slam, and the experience unlocked her creativity in a way she had never experienced before. She decided against participating in that year’s high school musical, and instead focused her efforts on her newfound passion for spoken word. “It was symbolic for me,” she says of that choice, “because I was like, I’m going to focus more on my original content, and not on this play. When I found out how powerful the union can be between theatrical performance and my own content, it was over.”

This creative shift gave way to a whole new landscape of ideas, both in exploring herself through words, and in coming to understand those around her through their own spoken word performances. “It’s (a form of) social justice,” she explains, “but it’s not for the sake of being a good person, it’s social justice for survival and making sure that we don’t get silenced and swallowed by what happens, either by a very immediate life or death situation or whether that’s just our stories and our histories and our selves being masked by the status quo and assimilated into that kind of numbness that we develop as an older person.” Investigating the politics of identity is a recurring theme in Hollis’ writing, connecting the dots between the personal and the political. It’s plain to see that Hollis believes that poetry is a playground for ideas, with the potential to be instrumental in igniting the discourse necessary to make social change. “Poetry activates voices to be heard,” she says, “and because of that people are empowered, and because of that people can step into the world and make change. I’ve seen that so often, I feel like I’m a product of that. It saves people in the most constructive way because it’s being really thoughtful about self and building self through words.”

Seattle really has spoken word poetry to thank for Hollis’ move to the Northwest, as she chose to attend Seattle U specifically because she was so inspired by the Seattle Youth Speaks team when she saw them at the national slams. It was on that team that Hollis first met Maddy Clifford, Hollis’ partner-in-crime in the socially conscious rap duo, Canary Sing, which was Hollis’ first go at making her craft musical. Canary Sing is a really natural progression from the ladies’ background in spoken word, the influence apparent throughout all of their music. While Hollis has continued to stay involved with Youth Speaks over the years, music has become the dominating medium through which she expresses herself. Since Maddy moved back to the Bay area, Hollis has done collaborations with a myriad of local artists, including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. She wrote the hook for their hit song, “Wings,” and sings on the track, “White Walls,” both of which appear on the local hip-pop duo’s massively successful record, the Heist. Her own musical endeavors have gradually inched away from being activist art and closer to fun-for-the-sake-of-fun pop music. The Heartfelts, a soulful R&B trio she was in with Amos Miller and Jahon Mikal, somewhat bridged the divide between the feminist warrior rap of Canary Sing and the frivolous party-starting jams of the Flavr Blue, Hollis’ current project with local producers, Parker Joe and Lace Cadence. “It’s mood music,” she says, “and it’s music to have a good time to. Even though it can be hella stressful and we’ve invested thousands of dollars in the project, it’s always been on the basis of This Feels Good. And that’s a powerful thing to do because when you’re working really hard and you’re doing all sorts of community work, it’s really important to remember to celebrate and have fun.”

No one deserves to let loose and have a good time quite like Hollis. City Arts magazine recently ran a feature on her titled “The Workhorse,” which is a fairly apt description. Besides being a working musician, Hollis has been a producer for a number of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ music videos, including the now ubiquitous “Thrift Shop” video that has since sky rocketed them to next-level fame. She is the youngest member of the Seattle Center Advisory Committee, which makes all sorts of important decisions on the use of that space. She was involved with a food justice program for about two years. She’s still a mentor for the Youth Speaks team in Seattle. She works as a tutor. She’s started writing material for a solo album.  AND she recently revisited her theater roots as an actress in the cast of These Streets, a critically acclaimed production at ACT Theater about the history of Seattle women in rock.

How does this woman keep it together? Is she on Tiger’s Blood? She makes the solution seem so simple: “It’s finding that balance between getting inspired by that social energy, but not having it compromise your potential. The fact that I’ve had an amazingly supportive boyfriend over the last two years has really helped me ground myself because I love being social, and that’s where I get a lot of my energy from. I feel like I’ve been able to move myself into a more balanced point-of-view, definitely catalyzed by my relationship with Jeff (Lawrence, also known as his alias, dj100proof).”

Being the kind of girl who’s a ball to be around and can party with the best of them, but can put her nose to the grindstone when push comes to shove and crank out some really incredible work, is precisely what has earned Hollis her place in the Seattle Peach 100. She’s infinitely inspirational, and equally approachable. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel like all things are possible. Scroll on to see what Hollis had to say for the Seattle Peach 100 Factsheet.