Tony E. Dennis is an educator, writer, and visual artist. He traveled to South Korea to teach English as well as perform. While abroad Dennis organized a tribute event for the late Nigerian poet Chinua Achebe with the assistance of South Korean and Chicago artist.
When did you begin this journey to South Korea?
Dennis: The thought—the idea of going to South Korea began right after I graduated. No it was probably my senior year at Columbia—my senior year was when I was actually thinking about it. I had a friend who did English out there so he was trying to put me on to it, and the time was—I was doing my thing creatively, but I kind of felt like I needed a different experience…At the time things were going kind of slow for me artistically. I was like, “Why not just–why not try and do this?”…I gave it some time and there was always something in the back of my head, but after graduating and then doing some things in DC after that I decided why not just—why not go?
Tell me about one person you met.
Dennis: There was one [person] that I actually researched before I came to South Korea. And this brother’s name is Elliott Ashby, and now he’s back in the states. He’s from New York he had a television show in South Korea. He’s this black dude from–Arizona. Yeah so he’s a DJ and an MC, he has this radio show that was on there, and he hosted an open mic so I ended up connecting with him. But it was interesting to see what kind of life he was able to build being a black American. He stayed there for a couple of years. I think he stayed there for four—five years before he gone back to the states. He created a name for himself in Korea, and now he’s back here in New York doing his thing so. So that was inspiring. That was cool.
Did you notice how fast the Internet is in South Korea?
Dennis: True. Yeah, I know the—the Internet hub is dope—technologically there’s a lot of dope stuff going on there. The Internet is quick! It’s the most technologically advanced–[they’re] one of the most technologically advanced spots on the planet. And there you see this contrast, where it’s all these people are in a rush to–they know what they got technologically and this whole IT tech boom or whatever. IT tech boom that’s there, but then you got these hella old school folks with this hella old school mentality…My boss wasn’t able to use Skype he didn’t even know how to use Skype. So you got this new versus old like new folks with the technological boom and everything and then you have this whole tribe of folks who can’t even use the computer accurately with Internet and have trouble opening their email and stuff like that.
Wow, were you surprised to see the technology disconnect?
Dennis: When I came in I didn’t come in knowing the reality of the technological boom out there and how advanced they are technologically out there. I came in really with no expectations really what so ever towards anything. I came in hella open and I knew that what I wanted to do was stay connected to my artwork.
So, before I came really the first thing I did was–Chinua Achebe passed right before I came. So I knew the vision I had when I first came there was to create a show in honor of Chinua Achebe. And I had no idea how this was going to work. I was like, “How am I going to do this? I’m in South Korea, trying to do a Chinua Achebe show about a Nigerian. I have no idea who these people are?” But Google—Internet is a great thing! I Googled certain people like artist in South Korea. I had one friend who was in South Korea before and he told me about the art scene. So, I had a list of folks I hit up before I came there and I was like, “Yo, Chinua Achebe passed, I feel like I want to do some kind of show in honor of him.” I put it on Craigslist, I put it on Facebook, and these Korean folks–you never know what people know. That’s what I learned. These Korean folks hit me up and were like, “Oh, Chinua Achebe passed I would definitely like to do something for the show. Let me know what I can do.”
I put the show together…And like the Nigerian Embassy ended up finding out about it. They came—representatives from the embassy came out and we were able to get this—reserve this bar and we got artist from Korea.
What did you learn about yourself?
Dennis: There’s a world outside of your immediate neighborhood. And whatever your talents are there’s a world that’s hungry and interested in embracing that talent. Doing—working as a poet, it’s powerful to meet all of these other poets and hearing their stories which really sharpened my craft. I feel I’m a better poet for that I’m a better storyteller—and I can connect the dots. You feel like you can connect the dots to some of the issues other people are facing. So you realize you’re not the only one facing that condition, and if you can find other people who are facing those conditions who might look different than you or talk different than you or act different than you. You can create like a network of community to try and solve those conditions. So I thought that was powerful.