Artist Spotlight Writers

Artist Q&A: ‘Hey, Black Child’ author Jaidah Kirksey discusses poetry and growing up in St. Louis

The subject of this piece uses singular they/them pronouns.

Don’t let the colorful cover of Jaidah Kirksey’s debut poetry collection “Hey, Black Child” fool you. The 22-year did not set out to write a warm story of hope.

“Hey, Black Child”—a collection of 44 poems and essays —details the perils of being Black in 2020. Jaidah’s prose recounts the murder of Breonna Taylor, the high mortality rate of Black babies in St. Louis, and the psychological effects of being a Black woman in America. While the poet’s pain is prevalent in each piece, Jaidah simultaneously weaved a sense of warm nostalgia in her words, a longing for childhood and peace for her family.

Jaidah self-published “Hey, Black Child” this summer after she graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in cinema arts. Jaidah is a native St. Louisan and a self-taught multidisciplinary artist, but this is their first published work. They publish their art without ever showing their face so it can be appreciated regardless of their gender or appearance, Jaidah says.

Jaidah grew up in Wellston, Missouri, a part of St. Louis County just north of the Delmar Loop. As Jaidah describes the city: “Wellston was ghetto for some, but it was home for us.” Jaidah and I met there in Amherst Park to discuss her approach to writing “Hey, Black Child.” The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

You dedicated the book to “every black child who has ever felt misunderstood, very black child who has questioned their existence.” Why title the book “Hey, Black Child,” and why focus specifically on children?

It’s based off a poem called “Hey Black Child” by Useni Eugene Perkins. I saw a  little girl recite it on some talk show a while ago, and it always stuck with me because of the emotion and power she had when she read it. She probably didn’t even understand what she was saying. I didn’t know what to title my book, but then it just came to me. ‘Hey, Black Child.” I feel like it’s mainly a universal call to every child. Everyone, including adults, has a child within themselves.

There are almost no capital letters in your book. Was that a style choice or were you trying to convey something? 

I think subconsciously I was trying to convey how I felt this summer—small, unseen, forgotten. It was also a style choice as well. This may sound weird, but writing in lowercase helps me flow out words easier. 

You wrote in the final poem of the book that you wanted to write this as “an expression of transparency.” What did you mean by that?

I wanted to stress how important it is to be 100% honest with yourself about how you feel about what’s happening in the world. I had a lot of scary thoughts this summer about who I was as a person, as a woman, as a black woman, and I feel like being honest with those feelings will help you deal with them. I wanted people to see like you don’t always have to be resilient and strong, because it’s really hard, especially this year. 

A double-exposed image of Jaidah Kirksey at Amherst Park in Wellston, Missouri. Jaidah keeps their face anonymous to avoid gender prejudice.

Is a collection of this honesty and  transparency something you wish you had growing up? 

Yes. My mom kept telling people at an event the other day, ‘I never understood my daughter.’ I’ve always been such a reserved person. My mom only understood my feelings once she read the book. As a child, I was never open with my parents. They always thought I was a brick wall. I just always kept my feelings to myself, and now I release myself through writing.

As a child, I definitely didn’t know how to express myself. I was always misunderstood. People would always think that I was a problem child. Writing has definitely helped me channel how I feel. I hope I can help a kid who might be like me.

What was the inspiration for the book’s cover? 

I’m really infatuated with sunflowers and the color yellow. When people look at the book, they may think, ‘Oh my gosh, the color yellow.’ ‘Hey, Black Child’ is a very endearing and welcoming title, but when you actually read the book, it’s very raw and intense. The poetry is deep, but people will look at it and they won’t get an idea of this. I feel like the yellow color or the sunflower color replicate the irony in life or being black. It’s a roller coaster of being happy and being sad the next. I wanted to use a welcoming color because, even though being black is very, very heavy, it also is the only thing I thing I’ve ever been.

A mural painted along Dr. Martine Luther King Drive in Wellston, Missouri. Wellston’s crime rate reaches nearly four times the national average.

What was your thought process when writing “George,” “For Tonyin” and “For Breonna”?

I’m a spiritual person, and I feel as if channeling the ancestors through art is a duty. I always want to honor the ancestors who aren’t here. It was hard for me to process what happened to George and Toyin and Brianna. I couldn’t figure out what to say the whole summer about what happened to them. One day I said to myself, ‘I’m going to writing a poem for Breonna,’ and it just flowed. What happened to her still messes me up, but I feel like that poem helped me come to accept it. 

How else has your poetry helped you?

It got me out of my dark moments. I had a lot of dark moments this summer. When I released the book, it helped me get out of that funk. Like, OK, you’re here for something, you should channel your gift. I know I have a gift in writing, and that reassured me because it made me feel like I was here for something. You just have to keep at it and push through even though life is hard. 

There’s a strong theme of family in your writing. You spoke with such empathy for your father in “For My Daddy.”

I love my parents. They were young when they had my siblings and I, and I feel like they still have a lot to learn. My generation has a whole different perspective on parenting than my parents. Sometimes, I have to tell them they should be more understanding with their kids, don’t just talk at them. I don’t regret anything that happened while I was growing up, but there are some things I look back on now and think, ‘That was not OK.’ I wanted to highlight that in the book.

My father… I love my dad, but, you know, he’s like the typical Black father. He’s very passionate about his family and doesn’t want anything bad to happen, but at the same time, he needs to allow us to be our own people. He has to let my siblings and I go out and make mistakes and get hurt. I try to look at my father as a person. He’s a father and a husband, but he’s still a man. That’s a whole other conversation—the Black father narrative—how people want them to be more open with their emotions and not just a brick wall. Black fathers are always pressured to be the strong leader of the family. It’s okay to just be sometimes.

Tell me about the way you formed your poems. Some are long, some are just a few lines, and a few are very dense, almost like paragraphs. Did you approach the writing as ‘I want this poem to look like this,’ or was it more unconscious?

It was mostly a conscious thing. I’m also very big on spoken word, so when I write my poetry, I try to read it out loud when I form it. I want it to flow a certaon way when people to read it. In ‘Pray We Make It Out Alive,’ I wanted ‘murder’ to stand out, same with ‘kill.’ I like words that are simple, but they also hit you. 

‘Pray We Make It Out Alive’ is very personal to me. I had a classmate who was murdered over the summer, and when I read, it it gives me chills. It’s very hard for me to read my poetry, but I don’t regret writing it at all. A lot of people keep bringing up poems to me and I still haven’t really touched the book. I need to, though. I need to revisit all I wrote, but at the same time it’s hard for me to relive those moments. But ‘Pray We Make It Out Alive’ is very sentimental to me, because it’s affecting me right now. 

You write about St. Louis with such foreboding, but also admiration at the same time. It’s home, but like your poem said, it’s also where people get murdered. There’s a line in ‘Where I’m From’ that really struck me. You wrote, ‘you never ask me about the beauty of my city, only the ugly, but diamonds always come from rough places.’ Could you elaborate more on that? What is St. Louis to you?

An apartment building in Wellston, Missouri.

When I moved to Chicago for school, I found a great appreciation for my city. I would miss St. Louis so much. Now that I’ve been in St. Louis since I’ve graduated, it’s been up and down. I know that Louis is home, but I can’t stay here. I really appreciate the city, but there’s just a lot about this place that does not resonate with me, and it’s hard to be here. I was born here, so St. Louis will always be a part of me. I would never let somebody talk down on this city. 

A lot of beautiful art has come out of here, a lot of talent. Although, as you know, where there is light there is darkness, and we have a lot of darkness and a lot of issues we need to fix. Hence, Wellston. Wellston was never like this. My parents would talk about how it was back in the day, and it was the total opposite of the way it is now.

But I’ll always love Wellston. Even while I was driving on the way here, I felt so connected to it. My house is like a four minute drive from this house, my old house is five minutes away. My grandma still lives here. All the memories on this block are still here. Whenever I’m in Wellston, I feel the love, but it makes me sad too. I miss being a child. I loved my childhood, but now I get to look back and be appreciative. This is where I’m from, but look where I am now.

Jaidah’s book, “Hey, Black Child” is available for purchase on Amazon.

View more of Jaidah’s work on Instagram @sm8llfry.


25 gift ideas from St. Louis artists and makers

It’s been, to say the least, a weird year. You might not celebrate the holidays the same way you always have, but if you’re still on the lookout for gifts, I’ve got you covered.

All the artists or brands featured on this list have online stores or offer contactless pick-up. Either way, mask up this holiday season. Let’s not add to the mounting Covid toll. Happy shopping.

Hand-Painted Nike Air Force 1 Sneakers by Frank Anthony – $250

Artist Frank Anthony works under the idea that anything is a canvas. These chrome-style Nike Air Force 1s are among several designs the artist has handpainted onto the classic Nike shoes. Men’s and women’s sizes available.

Decorative Painted Vinyl by Cadence Hodes – Prices Vary

Photo courtesy of Cadence Hodes.

The perfect gift for your favorite music lover. In an interview with Artitouille last spring, Cadence Hodes said she could spend over 20 hours meticulously hand painting records new and old. Pricing depends on size: 7″ records cost $125; 12″ records are $225. Contact Cadence on her Instagram for more details.

STLiens Tee by Black.Clothing – $25

Black.Clothing began in 2015 with a mission to preserve Blackness and community through clothing. Currently, the brand is raising money for Kidz of Joy, a childcare center in Ferguson. Check out Black.Clothing’s website for more T-shirt and hoodie options.

Incense Holder by Nova Vita – $35

Local artist Avery Callan began her business, Nova Vita, in 2015 as a sophomore in high school. The brand is more widely known for its clay jewelry, but the incense holders Avery designs are equally gorgeous.

A Photo Print by Artistic Visuals – $20

Few photographers have captured St. Louis the same way Artistic Visuals has. The photographer digitally edits stunning colors onto his photos of St. Louis. All of Artistic Visuals’ prints are printed on high gloss paper with archival pigment inks for vibrant colors. Framing options available.

St. Louis Sweatshirt by WORK/PLAY at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis – $45

WORK/PLAY is an interdisciplinary design studio in St. Louis founded by Kevin and Danielle McCoy. In their work, they combine minimal contemporary design with experimental printmaking techniques. This sweatshirt of their design comes in sizes XS to 2XL.

Britney Spears Ornament at Golden Gems – $16


‘Make Cool Shit Take No Shit’ Tee from Golden Gems – $32

The perfect gift for the artist in your life. This tee has a unisex fitting and comes in sizes small through 4XL.

RBG Tote by Onward! Designs at Union Studio – $24

This screen-printed portrait of the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reads “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Long live the queen. Check out more feminist paraphernalia on Onward! Designs’ (Mary Grayson Batts) Etsy page.

Saint Louis Marauder’s Map by St. Louis Fantasy Maps at Union Studio – $20

This Harry Potter-inspired map plots all of St. Louis City’s neighborhoods, but unfortunately, it won’t magically show you where whom you seek to find is. The map features a hand-stamped wax seal and measures 8.5″x11″.

Coloring Therapy Book by Jasmine Raskas – $12

Abstract painter Jasmine Raskas wrote and illustrated this coloring book as a “guide to surviving the apocalypse.” The book contains 12 pages for coloring based on Jasmine’s original paintings, as well as other space dedicated for journal prompts.

Saint Louis Soul Variety Pack by STL Style – $14.95

Represent our city with pride. This five pack includes a Saint Louis pin, magnet, sticker, patch and keychain. STL Style (3159 Cherokee St.) is offering free shipping for all orders made now until Christmas Eve.

St. Louis Sewer Cover Doormat by STL Style – $34.95

STL Style’s sewer mat is machine washable and can be used in the kitchen or bathroom in addition to a doorstep. The store is offering free shipping for all orders now until Christmas Eve.

Hazey Dazey Earrings by MindFlowers – $32

Each of MindFlower’s bold, psychedlic designs will help any retro fashionista “flower their power” through the holidaze. Designer Oliva Cupp crafts each MindFlower piece in her home studio alongside husband and photographer, Jairo Villa. These Hazey Dazey Earrings come in a variety of colors and sizes.

St. Louis Cardinals Kids Tee by Cbabi Bayoc – $22.50

Designed by muralist and painter Cbabi Bayoc, this tee is the perfect fit for any little Cardinals fan.

“A Year in the City” St. Louis 2021 Calendar by Janet Muhm – $26

The fourth “A YEAR IN THE CITY” calendar designed by long-time St. Louisan Janet Muhm. “A YEAR IN THE CITY” is an annual celebration of St. Louis. Twelve “visual stories” of iconic St. Louis landmarks illustrate each month with Janet’s simple yet fully encapsulating style.

Blown Glass Ornament by Third Degree Glass Factory – $30

Third Degree Glass Factory (5200 Delmar Blvd.) is open 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday for store pickup. The “Marine” ornament pictured above is among several of Third Degree Glass Factory’s studio ornaments all costing the same price.

‘Starry Night’ St. Louis Skyline Print by Laura Thomson – Prices Vary

Laura Thomson

If I were clever enough to think of a Van Gogh pun, I’d write it here. Gogh get this print? I think I’ll stop there. This “Starry Night”-inspired painting of St. Louis’ skyline is available in 8″x10″ paper prints ($15) or 16″x20″ canvas prints ($65).

A Photo Session with Naisha Bailey-Johnson – Prices Vary

You might recognize Naisha Bailey-Johnson’s name from the national news coverage she received earlier this year for her photo project on Black fatherhood. The photographer offers a variety of photoshoots from maternity to custom sessions. Fourty-five to 60 minute outdoor or indoor sessions start at $349.

A Print by KneeHigh Prints – $40-$50

Nick Nihira of KneeHigh Prints laces everyday objects or scenes with elements of the bizarre. “Shark Ramen” (pictured above) is 19″x25″ and costs $50.

Ibis Necklace from Civil Alchemy – $44

In Egyptian mythology, the Ibis bird symbolizes luck and good fortune–something one could use after the dumpster fire that was 2020. Civil Alchemy (8145 Big Bend Blvd.) offers delivery or curbside pickup.

Face Masks by Michael Drummond – Prices Vary


We’ve been in this pandemic for far too long to deny that facemasks are now a part of our everyday look. Masks fashioned by local designer Michael Drummond feature chic designs on moisture-wicking fabric. Price varies by design. The mask pictured above costs $34. Children’s sizes available.

10 Ounce Candle by Boda Clay – $36

This soy wax candle designed by Molly Svoboda of Boda Clay is available in two all-natural fragrances: palo santo and sage, oakmoss and cedar.

A Print by Mad Trip Designs – $15-$30

As Michael Doherty’s brand name suggests, the artist’s work under Mad Trip Designs are nothing short of trippy. Pictured above is “Reconnect,” screen-printed by Michael. Pickup options available.

Leather Journal by Soul Survivor – $75

Perfect or the writer or sketch artist in your life. Steve and Kay Rye have been fashioning artisan leatherworks in St. Louis since 1985. You can find these leather journals at their store, Soul Survivor (7401 Manchester Rd.).

Dad Cap by Arch Apparel – $25

Arguably the easiest option for that person who’s hard to shop for. These cotton hats come in 11 different colors and would make a good gift for pretty much anyone.

A Suggestion

This holiday season, think of where your help can be used the most and donate to a local charity or food bank. The St. Louis Area Foodbank allows donors to make donations in someone else’s name, as does Operation Food Search and several other local organizations.

Stay healthy, St. Louis. Happy holidays!

Artist Spotlight Visual Artists

Kyla Hawkins’ pop surrealist paintings tackle themes of body image, mental health and addiction

As a child, Kyla Hawkins would spend hours in her room alone drawing. 

Kyla says that isolation was key to her becoming the artist she is today. Though, her paintings are much different now than what she created as a six year old. Growing up, Kyla didn’t speak much. She spent a lot of time alone as the youngest of three siblings.

Kyla, 24, started painting seriously her sophomore year of high school. During that time, she focused on portraits and realism. She’d tear pictures out of magazines and spent hours, sometimes days, trying to recreate them. Eventually, realism bored her and she wanted to explore the ideas in her mind.

Now, Kyla describes her work as “pop surrealism.” In her paintings, skin can be blue, fingers can be tentacles and hair can be jellyfish. 

She paints distorted figures that are anatomically incorrect or “flawed.” She’ll purposely contort the people in her paintings to exaggerate features she wants to draw attention to. It all leads back to her pursuit of body positivity; the paintings don’t shy away from stretch marks, sagging skin or low-hanging breasts.

“Those are things we beat ourselves up so much about, and the world does as well,” Kyla says. “So, if I can bring this image to light, and you look at it and enjoy the painting, you can enjoy those features for what they are.”

Kyla says body positivity is one of the many themes she portrays in her work. It’s something she struggled with in the past. In high school and middle school, her classmates bullied her for her size. Although, the bullying didn’t stop her from being expressive. She had the unlikely combination of being both shy and confident. Kyla wore cool makeup looks and dressed how she wanted to dress. People told her she was different or weird. She took the anger she felt from the bullying and channeled it into art. 

Eventually, she found reassurance through art that sidelined the bullying. Her art teachers at school told her she had talent. 

“That gave me an extra gust of wind underneath my wings because it was very hard sometimes,” Kyla says. “Bullying was almost an everyday thing for me on the bus, but whenever I produced something that was nice, I was like, ‘Wow, this is who I am and I can be who I am.’”

Photo courtesy Kyla Hawkins.

Kyla also weaves themes of addiction into her work. She used  to go to weed, pills and alcohol to cope. Kyla says at that time, those were things she thought were a part of the definitive artist’s lifestyle. In her head festered the idea that she had to struggle in order to feel like she had lived. But eventually, she started to question the cycle.

“It got repetitive,” Kyla says. “I asked myself, ‘Am I doing this to create or is there a dependency on these substances that isn’t linked to my creativity?’ I did some soul searching and put those images into my paintings.” 

It’s those images – colorful portraits of people stuck in a moment – that make her Instagram look like a gallery of Tim Burton characters. 

Kyla doesn’t paint full-time. She worked as an accountant at a hotel corporate company before she got laid-off because of COVID-19. You can buy Kyla’s art by connecting with her through her Instagram, Khawkins Kreations, or Facebook

Visual Artists

Got any old records? Artist Cadence Hodes can spend up to 20 hours painting patterns on vinyl records

There’s not a lot you can do with a scratched up old vinyl. Cadence Hodes thought so too when some roommates left her with a bunch of their old records when they moved out.

Then inspiration struck.

She saw her cousin’s friend use an old record as a mixing palette. Cadence says she thought, “why not use it as a canvas?”

Depending on the size, Cadence can spend up to 20 hours painting a single vinyl. She’ll paint a layer, waitt for it to dry, and then paint another layer. When she first started painting, the “Law & Order” theme song that played once an hour made her notice how she lost track of time as she painted.

Do you think it’s Bluetooth compatible? Photo courtesy of Cadence Hodes.

What started as a fun hobby bloomed into a small business. Cadence started gathering attention when she made an Instagram for her art. She paints when she’s not at school or studying for her master’s in counseling from UMSL.

When she first started, she chose which records to paint by the look of their label. She’d comb through vinyls at Goodwill or estates sales for labels with vibrant colors.

Cadence paints one of several layers onto Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Now, Cadence does a lot of custom orders. People ask her to paint records that have an emotional significance to them, like a couple’s first dance or whatever their loved one’s favorite song is.

Cadence says she does get some criticism for buying new records just to paint on them.

“I get that and I don’t disagree, but if someone wants it, I’m going to do it,” Cadence says.

Cadence’s vinyls cost from $125 to $225. Browse her online gallery here.

Visual Artists

St. Louis-based artist and poet Bryan Payne creates mosaics from pottery shards found on Mississippi River banks

For most people, the objects that wash up on the banks of the Mississippi River are nothing more than trash. For artist Bryan Payne, they’re his medium of choice.

Among discarded Styrofoam cups, broken bricks, plastic soda bottles and other discarded garbage, Bryan finds desirable items decades, sometimes a century old.

“It’s like ‘I Spy,’” Bryan says. “I read the river and look at signs of where debris could be.”

He’s not on the lookout for any debris, though. Bryan mudlarks, or scavenges the banks of rivers for artifacts of the past. He mostly keeps his eyes peeled for broken pottery shards that he can turn into mosaics.

Mudlarking originated in London, England in the late 18th century. Mudlarks would search the River Thames at low tide for items they could sell. Now, it’s more widely a hobby for artists and historians. Mudlarking in London eventually became so competitive, people had to get permits from the city in order to do it. A permit isn’t necessary in St. Louis, however.

Bryan says he only knows of one other mudlarker in the area.

Mudlarkers are notoriously secretive of their spots, Bryan says. He reads the river to speculate where the best debris could be. One spot he likes to share with people is near Lumiere Place and Casino downtown. There, he finds old casino coins people might’ve thrown in the river, or metal objects from the Union Light and Power Plant upstream.

Artist Bryan Payne uses pottery shards he finds in the Mississippi River to create mosaics like this one.

He looks for things with lines: pottery shards, lost necklaces; anything that can create some kind of story in his mosaics.

“I can make a whole other shape, a whole other life with that,” Bryan says.

He’ll find inspiration from almost anything: a Styrofoam mattress pad stuck in the sand, a cracked plastic hat, a broken Bengal bracelet. Trash isn’t just trash to him, he says.

“I know it’s disgusting and we need to pick it up, but it has its own beauty,” Bryan says.

Though much of his art is based off his mudlarking finds, Byan also curates galleries and does work with the City Museum. He plans on finishing a screenplay this month after writing it for seven years. The movie is based off of events that happened during the Great Flood of 1993, when the Mississippi devastated countless families in the St. Louis area.

If you’d like to buy Bryan’s art, contact him through his Instagram.


Art events to check out in March, but since the world’s gone to hell, you probably shouldn’t

Mark your calendars. Here’s Artitouille’s picks of the best art-related events to check out next month.

Artist Spotlight Musicians

Emo band Inches From Glory does not stick to conventional labels

You wouldn’t think this self-described emo band came from a former cellist, jazz musician and drummer.


Visual Artists

Artist Q&A: With a pilot pen, portrait artist Liam McKinnon draws the imagined characters in his mind to life

Wielded with a Pilot pen, Liam McKinnon draws the imagined characters in his mind to life.

Visual Artists

Webster University art student Rachel Regan uses vivid imagination to paint surreal portraits.

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“Rainbow Man” Acrylic on canvas 11″ x 14″

19-year-old Maddie Shomaker’s poetry on love, death and family like ‘her diary on a page’