Nov 10, 2008 - 12:00 AM
Ruby performs with iLL-Literacy at her book release and Natural Electricity tour stop in San Francisco. For more photos, click here.
As she grew older and more serious with writing, Ruby made the natural progression into spoken word, inspired by the live performances of some of her favorite artists such as Mos Def, Outkast and The Roots. “I wanted to be a part of this movement somehow, but all I had was poetry,” she says. After meeting fellow spoken word artist Adriel Luis in college, iLL-Literacy was formed. She now tours internationally with the innovative four-member collective. Less of a stereotypical spoken word act, their live performance combines hip-hop and spoken word, backed by a live band—it’s energy, electricity and intergalactic funk. While each artist plays an equal role in conceptualizing and creating their work, Ruby, for obvious reasons (she’s the only female in the group), sticks out. However, it’s her stylish flair, graceful elegance, passionate delivery and, above all else, persistence in a male-dominated arena that makes her a role model to young women, particularly those of color. It’s no question why she is crowned queen.
Oh Dang!: Break down your new book, Miss Universe.
Ruby Veridiano-Ching: It's an autobiography but broken up into poems. What I pride myself most about this book is that it's very honest. I'm a very truthful writer. A lot of my writing stems from times where I really needed to release emotions.
OD!: How did the title of the book come about?
Ruby: The term “Miss Universe” is notorious for the main bar for beauty pageants and, in a lot of ways, I was documenting the experience and how we have life as a pageant because we are always worrying about self-image. It's taught to us by society—these standards of how you're supposed to be. Personally, I struggle with a lot of that. The fascination of the glitz and the knowledge of being a celebrity is such a warped and distorted idea in this country, but that’s also me wanting to change that [and] really being able to provide a different presentation of the public figure.
OD!: What are you looking to accomplish with this book?
Ruby: This is my first project that I really just want it to have a voice, to distinguish my voice in this book and to represent American woman. I just really wanted to share my story. The main thing that I pride myself with is how honest I was and how I was documenting the human experience with as much integrity and vulnerability and I want people to relate to that. Also, the power of knowing how to make language beautiful in an age where we are losing so many records and we are losing the need to write handwritten notes. I want people to be able to do something “old school”—pick up a book and read it. This is my way of communicating with the world in the more organic way. Also, what I really wanted to do with this book is to use it as an educational tool. My dream for the book is to be able to make it available for high school classrooms. I have experience as an arts educator. I want to develop curriculum to correlate with the book.
OD!: What do you consider to be your proudest accomplishment?
Ruby: I would say my proudest accomplishment is being able to keep pursuing what I am passionate about. I know that I won’t compromise my vision for anything. I think I've been able to work as an artist long enough to be confident that my art can take me places. My greatest accomplishment is being able to pursue what I'm passionate about relentlessly.
OD!: What inspires you the most?
Ruby: I would say music right now, and fashion. I think Asian Americans are really doing their thing in the fashion world. We are running the whole street wear scene. The big labels like Hellz Bellz, Crooks and Castles, Undercown, The Hundreds—all those are Asian American-owned and created brands. I think that, also, I've been seeing a lot more Filipino Americans who are impacting the industry in such a profound way. I'm super inspired to keep at doing what I'm doing because I feel, collectively, it’s leaving a mark. I think that’s one of the main reasons why music is so inspiring right now is because I'm seeing people who look like me really just running it. My friends inspire me. They’re doing their own thing and being focused. The things that also inspire me are the people in my group, literature. Sonia Sanchez and Bell Hooks have been a major influence throughout the process of writing Miss Universe and Ishle Yi Park, who is an Asian American poet from Queens. She was one of the first female spoken word artists that I got to see and reading her work really helped to develop my writings as well.
OD!: What do you think is the most important lesson you've learned from the culture?
Ruby: I think spoken word has helped me become more grounded and well rounded in my life because spoken word as a culture has always emphasized the pursuit for social justice and equality. One of the most important things that I've taken from it is really being strong, being there for my community and caring about the world and how to change it. A whole lot of people who are in the entertainment industry, all they care about is making money and I definitely want to be comfortable in my money situation. [But] all I'm asking for is to be able to be comfortable to support myself, be able to do what I love and also be able to impact the world in a positive way with spoken word.
OD!: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be involved in spoken word?
Ruby: Don't be afraid. People get easily intimidated by a microphone and a crowd. It’s one of the most liberating places where you can just let things go and where people will just respect your words. What’s really beautiful about the spoken word community is that everybody is supportive and everybody is there to show respect. I feel that people there are not trying to be the best. They are just there just for the same mission that you are—to really share truth and share personal stories using spoken word as a means for education and activism. The people who are drawn to spoken word are people who have really good energy so they’re going to be supportive either way.
And now a little word association…
OD!: New York.
OD!: Sean Bell.
OD!: Kanye West.
Ruby: Teddy bears.
Ruby: Gowns and fake furs.
Catch Ruby Veridiano-Ching on the Natural Electricity Tour with iLL-Literacy and the Hi-Lifes. For more info on Ruby, visit www.ill-literacy.com.
Click here to see photos from Ruby's book release and iLL-Literacy's performance at Milk Bar in San Francisco.
Phalary Long is married to the hustle. You can check her out at her blog: www.phalarysofresh.com.
Suzy Salazar is a freelance contributor to Oh Dang! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.