For San Antonio poet laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, the honors keep coming. Thursday, the Academy of American Poets named Sanderson one of 23 poets laureate fellows for 2021, with $50,000 to fund a special project.
Beginning in September, The Echo Project will pair San Antonio youth ages 12 to 18 with community elders on a project to record oral histories, to then be turned into poetry, performance, and multimedia expressions.
In her proposal to the academy, Sanderson wrote, “there is great power in intergenerational learning, in preserving the stories of our cultures,” and quoted artist Trinh T. Minh-ha comparing the loss of a community elder as “a whole library that burns down.”
San Antonio is steeped in history and tradition, she said, and The Echo Project will help shrink what she called a “generational gap” between young people and their elders.
One example she gave is Nik Soupe, a muralist who has created many colorful murals around the city but whose voice is rarely heard.
“Get him talking, and he’s pretty fascinating,” she said. Soupe is just one of many community leaders Sanderson will ask to participate, “who have great stories to tell and have contributed so much to the artistic culture of San Antonio.”
The Echo Project, so named because the young participants will echo the voices of their elders through poetry, will also target literacy issues in the city, which Sanderson believes is part of her duty as poet laureate.
Sanderson will work with community partners the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, jazz club Carmens De La Calle, and the Carver Community Cultural Center to help facilitate the project.
The fellowship comes after a series of honors bestowed upon Sanderson, including most recently being named artist-in-residence at the Carver Center. After being named San Antonio Poet Laureate in March 2020, she received the Arts and Letters Award from the Friends of San Antonio Public Library and won Best Live Band/Musician of the Year at the 17th Annual Southern Entertainment Awards. In 2019, Sanderson won the $15,000 Artist Foundation People’s Choice Award.
“Every time something major happens, my mind is blown. It never stops shocking me,” she said. “But I realize, even with all the shock and all the accolades and every good thing that happens, is I believe in destiny, and I feel like this is part of my destiny.”
Sanderson credits her faith, optimism, and determination for achieving those good things. “When you make up in your mind that you want to do something you just do go for it. If you keep at it, it’s going to pay off, especially if you put intention and prayer behind it. … The things that I’ve asked God for in my career, all of them have happened.”
Sanderson also credited her fellow “210 Gs” slam poetry team members for helping germinate the idea that would become The Echo Project.
Undaunted by the pandemic arts shutdown and the loss of a June 2020 poetry slam competition, she and Anthony Gordon, Chibbi Orduna, Christopher “Rooster” Martinez, and Johnny Rivers III worked on the idea that would form the basis of Sanderson’s proposal to the academy.
“We did not get to compete, but we have partnered with each other and we [said] ‘We are going to do some things in San Antonio and shake it up,” Sanderson said.
Once The Echo Project comes to fruition, she hopes its influence extends far beyond San Antonio.
“The plan that … is to eventually take this curriculum that we’re creating, and try to pitch it to the state of Texas, and then the Board of Education. Because I feel like this is something that needs to be happening all the time,” Sanderson said.
This article has been updated to correct the name of the organization honoring Sanderson.