NOW Live from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Maker’s Lane Ep. 04: Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai’s poetry makes the invisible visible

In celebration of APA Heritage Month, we’ve collaborated with Studio APA and Hyphen Magazine to present Maker’s Lane, a webseries directed and produced by NYC-based artist Sahra Vang Nguyen. Each episode in this 5-part series features an Asian Pacific American entrepreneur from a distinct creative field in New York City. New episodes every week throughout May!

There’s something that is you, and there are people who need to experience it…your job becomes how do you find those people.

– Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

While spoken word poet and filmmaker may not be typical associations of an entrepreneur, artist and founder of Moving Earth Productions, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, has carved the path to creating a full-time career as just that.  Since discovering spoken word poetry as a teenager in Chicago, Kelly has continued to write and perform in over 500 venues across the country, including the White House and three seasons of Russell Simmon’s HBO Def Poetry.  Her creative curiosity and passion for storytelling has expanded into filmmaking, theater and multidisciplinary productions.  But what is she “selling” to her audience?  Like any entrepreneur, Kelly brings unseen ideas into existence through her storytelling, essentially creating experiences that inspire and empower her audiences.

Kelly Tsai

Kelly Tsai has used spoken word poetry to enter the realms of theater, fine art, film, dance and more.

Kelly Tsai has used spoken word poetry to enter the realms of theater, fine art, film, dance and more.

I’ve been a fan of Kelly for over 10 years–she is no doubt an influence on my own journey as a writer.  Over the years, I’ve admired the fact that she is one of the few people I’ve met and seen create a full-time career as a spoken word poet. As Kelly mentions in the episode, there is not a lot of transparency about how artist careers are created and sustained to operate like other full-time jobs.  Many young artists I’ve talked to feel they must reluctantly default to a full-time day job and create their art on the side (which is by no means a less respectable path). But for those who want to create their own job descriptions as a full-time artist, how can it be done?

This episode aims to address some of these questions by giving viewers a glimpse into Kelly’s daily grind, her creative process on solo show “Formosa” and words of advice on how to operate as both an artist and an entrepreneur.  While there are definitely some tools and strategies that could be learned for creating artist careers (such as accounting and organization), at the end of the day, each artist’s career is very unique to the individual so it will never be as simple as replicating a formula.  As Kelly states, “There’s something that is you, and there are people who need to experience it…your job becomes how do you find those people.”

Kelly Tsai

Kelly Tsai

Kelly Tsai

Discussion

Top