“There’s No Time To Be Angry. There’s Just Time To Act”: How This Gen-Z Poet Is Using Art As A Catalyst For Change
Refinery29 is proud to partner with Target to celebrate Gen-Z women who are Future Seekers: inspiring activism, challenging the status quo, and unapologetically pursuing their ambitions with excellence. For poet and activist Kinsale Hueston, this means expressing her identity via her art, then using that art to advocate for indigenous rights and climate justice, among other things.
Kinsale Hueston has always been apprehensive about calling herself a poet — despite the fact that she’s been writing poetry since she was in the second grade. It wasn’t until she joined the National Student Poets Program in high school that she began to feel the title might be justified, and even now, she’s hesitant to fully embrace it.
“The [high school] program leaders were like, ‘These are the poets,’ and I was like, Okay, I guess I’m a poet now! But I felt a little weird calling myself a poet, even then, because I always want to call myself more of a student of poetry. I am always picking up pieces and trying to develop my style, and maybe that is a facet of being a poet...probably no poet thinks they are a capital-P poet.”
Labels aside, poetry is woven into almost every facet of Hueston’s life: She uses it when prose won’t suffice; when she’s her proudest, happiest, or saddest; when she’s performing across the country; and especially when she wants to express her identity as a Navajo woman. Poetry is essential for her to be able to accurately articulate her existence — one of an indigenous woman who's using her platform to fight for marginalized groups like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, as well as for climate justice and protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Regardless of her activism efforts, though, her poetry is still very much her own.
“Right now, I’m not motivated to write for anyone but myself,” Hueston says. “It demands that I give attention to my identity, which is so intricately tied to me being indigenous. So I’m a woman, but I’m also an indigenous woman. That intersectionality doesn’t escape my poems.”
The daily consideration of how her identity informs every aspect of her life is one that Hueston now grapples with in New Haven, Connecticut, where she is in her sophomore year at Yale. As a high school student in Orange County, California, she was coordinating diversity leadership training with the teaching staff; now, on the east coast, she’s a member of the Association of Native Americans at Yale and the Yale Prison Education Initiative, is involved with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, and continues to celebrate indigenous culture not merely on the designated holiday but year-round.
“I always feel two little holes in my heart — there’s one for California, and then there’s one for the [Navajo] reservation. There is a peculiar kind of homesickness that is very specific to people who have such a strong attachment to a place they call home. Poetry is like an artsy form of venting that helps to express that.”
Hueston’s commitment to her schoolwork doesn’t mean she’s content with simply staying put on campus and doing the work that’s required of her. On the contrary, she continues to travel for poetry performances and other appearances and uses her downtime on those trips to study (while other students read in libraries, Hueston can often be found studying on trains). For her, balancing self-care with her other responsibilities is simple: Don’t sacrifice sleep, even if it feels like you’re doing a million things at once.
“I really prioritize sleep! If I’m studying and I feel myself getting tired, I just go to bed. I don’t think it’s worth it to wreck my physical health for the sake of reading a couple more pages.”
In her latest foray into the world of spoken word (where she performs at festivals, conferences, and community events), Hueston speaks to topics like her ancestry, her mother’s childhood on the reservation, her grandmother’s passing, and the objects she holds onto for a sense of protection — all shining a light on the important role her heritage continues to play in her life.
Separate from her work as an individual artist, she’s gearing up to launch the Changing Womxn Collective: a platform and digital space for women of color artists to build community, fight for greater representation in the art industry, and share both poetry and a host of other artistic mediums.
“It’s so important to connect with other young artists and amplify their voices,” she says. “I feel like things are speeding up, like, 100 miles per hour right now, in terms of politics and movements, especially climate justice. I really, really want to bring people together and start something new.”
Hueston’s activism is just one example of the ways in which Gen Z has proven itself to be a generation of doers — people who are actually acting on their convictions, demanding political action, and refusing to settle for anything less. For her, it’s crucial that she continues to pursue substantive change; right now, that means pushing for increased visibility and opportunity for other artists of color through her collective, working with the aforementioned indigenous initiatives on campus, and staying connected to her roots by frequently returning to the Navajo Nation.
“I feel like all of Gen Z is involved in some way or another,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve run into anyone my age who’s completely cut off from the news or current events. There’s definitely a frustration, but more than that, there’s this energy that we seized, and why waste time being angry when everything is happening so fast? There’s no time to be angry. There’s just time to act.”