The Arts + Literature Laboratory echoed with stories and the clicking of pens as Gigi Guajardo, popularly known as “Gigi Bella,” lead an aspiring group of writers through a late night poetry workshop.

Bella has been writing and teaching poetry since she was a teenager. Originally from Albuquerque, N.M., Gigi went from slamming a few short poems on open mic night to ranking 10th in the world at the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. Last year she claimed the title of 2017 Albuquerque Women’s Slam Poetry Champion and made it on the cover of New Mexico’s Weekly Alibi.

She currently lives in New York and works as the resident Poetry Teaching Artist at the 92nd Street Y and a teaching artist at Urban World, a very popular spoken word hub. Additionally, she performs with a team of slam poets called Project X, the two-time Bronx poetry champions, the 2017 Vox Pop Champion, and a 2017 Fem Slam Finalist.

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“I am a poet first and foremost and that’s my profession,” Bella said.

The workshop was centered around what it’s like to grow up in America’s post-9/11 climate and how our experiences are affected by the cultures and the politics we were raised in. Bella drew from her Chicanx heritage and the military deployments of family members, specifically that of her aunt and her grandpa.

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She encouraged the group to write through prompts asking who our heroes were and what makes us feel powerful. After each prompt, the group had a chance to read their poems and dissect what they were about in a warm, safe space.

Bella dripped in advice on bravery and originality, how poets need to maintain their unique voice, speak their truth and “get free.” It’s all about acquiring that outside-of-body feeling and craving to share your story with the audience. And hopefully, you can move someone enough to use their own voice.

Explaining her motives for teaching and writing poetry, Bella shared her favorite poem, “The Benediction for the Hustlers and the Gardeners” by Lauren Zuniga. Bella believes that words can move people to plant their own gardens of creation, achieving their dreams and inspiring empathy and truth.

“All I’m really hoping is to plant those seeds,” said Bella.