Winfrey Oenga has never had any problem calling herself a poet. Though she’s only 18, she’s been creating in her particular style, which combines words with collage art, for three years. Still, she recalls the exact moment when she felt like she discovered her audience.
“I wrote a poem about patience—it wasn’t supposed to be a poem I read for different events,” Oenga recalls. “But I read this poem at a showcase. It was for graduation from AVID [a college-preparatory program]. The response was indescribable. I felt like I was a poet who finally got something from her audience, and I wasn’t expecting that.”
Oenga initially happened upon her style while finishing up a routine assignment for English class. “I had to keep a journal about how I would keep away from technology,” she says. “We had to put images in the journal, and I created these small drawings and collages. I used images of nature and other forms of art around the world.”
From there, the young poet and artist went on to serve on the Walker’s Teen Arts Council, which introduced her work to adult artists and broadened her sense of what she wants to accomplish.
Like many young writers, Oenga has developed a clearer sense of what she wants to accomplish as her style has developed. “I go back and read my early poems and I’m confused about what I was writing about, but I know what I was feeling some at the time. Then I’d write more about being a black girl and feeling isolated. And now I write about empowerment, less about being isolated from people of color, and more as a way of empowering people who look like me.”
Born and mostly raised in south Minneapolis, Oenga is a graduate of St. Paul Central High, but as she takes a gap year to decide on her college plans (and, of course, write and create), she happens to be living out in Burnsville. She probably won’t be staying there any longer than she has to, though. “I do not like the suburbs at all,” she says with a laugh. “It’s definitely not a place for a young adult.”