Toni Stuart

Toni Stuart began writing poetry when she was 14 years old but it was a while before she was confident enough to find her voice, which, as a child, she felt had no value. Today, at 30, she has performed at international festivals, the Cape Town Festival and in Parliament, has given solo performances in Cape Town and opened for renowned British poet Lemn Sissay. Before becoming a full-time poet she co-founded the non-governmental organisation I am Somebody! with storyteller Nicole Le Roux, and directed it from its inception in 2010 until the middle of 2012. I am Somebody! aims to use youth development to build an integrated, reconciled and resilient South African society. The core Rites of Passage programme is an 18-month programme aimed at helping 18 to 25-year-olds to become the people they want to become. There is also a mentorship programme and a community-building programme. Stuart serves on the boards of I am Somebody! and the Children’s Radio Foundation, a non-governmental organisation founded by Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, which gives young people a platform on which to air their concerns. As an extension of her passion, Stuart holds poetry and creative-writing workshops called “The Silence That Words Come From”, at which she assists participants to find their own voice and to express themselves. Recently she was commissioned by several organisations and universities to write about social problems such as HIV and Aids, gender issues and violence against women, although she also writes about her personal experiences. She is currently writing her first solo book, having contributed to several local and international poetry anthologies. Stuart’s passion is using words in ways that help people to discover their true value, live their wildest dreams and find the courage to listen to the voice in their hearts. — Ilham Rawoot