It’s Pride season, and nothing says Pride like Love. Immani Love to be exact. She is poet, lover, entertainer, artist, and she’s jumping across the pond for the Third Annual Rainbow Tour. Yes. Three years of taking her special brand of love and pride from Orlando, Florida to Europe. Three years of being unapologetically black, unflinchingly lesbian, and totally sexy as she takes her poetry and passion for community worldwide.
SHEREE L. GREER: Tell us a little bit about Immani Love, the artist.
IMMANI LOVE: I am an American lesbian erotic poet also known as a Goddess of Love because it’s not just about poetry for me. It’s about the energy of love in people and the people I come in contact with, so that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.
SHEREE: I like that. It’s not just about poetry. So, tell me about the Rainbow Tour. What is it? Because this is the third annual, right?
IMMANI: Actually this is my fourth time going overseas. [Note to reader: This is where I, the writer, should revise my intro cause I was all, three, three, three, but we’re in it now, so just rock with me.]
The first time I went was basically for research. Just kind of networking and talking to people. I had produced my CD and my book in 2011, and when it was on Amazon and iTunes it was selling better in France than it was in the States. So I was trying to figure out why. What’s going on over there and how are these people even finding out about me? Coincidently, my wife had to do some research for her dissertation in Cambridge, and I was like, okay, win-win, we both have some research to do, so we went over there… in winter—mistake number one—but it gave us the opportunity to meet people because in the summer people are go, go, go because it’s hot and they want to get out and entertain and what have you. But in the winter, they’re more homebodies. And if they’re going to an event, it’s more specific. You don’t just “go out” when it’s thirty degrees and snowing.
SHEREE: True. I know. I mean, I know. [This is where I have flashbacks of growing up in Milwaukee and nightmarish shivers from grad school in Chicago. Snow is only your friend until you’re about eleven. Then it’s played. So, so played].You know too, Immani, being from Philly.
IMMANI: Yes. I do! So, I went to a few networking events there and met people. Just kind of mingled and talked to people about what I did. Handed out business cards and stuff like that. And from that I had made connections with people who were having events that summer for Pride. But it was February, and there was no way I could turn back around and come right back. So I took that time to plan. And research and contact and schedule. I did all my own booking, just kind of reached out to people. Googled stuff to see what was out there. I targeted Pride season and Pride festivals because it’s my niche.
SHEREE: Right, right. That’s smart. Pride season. Love is love, and all that.
IMMANI: Yeah, spread the love. And that’s when I feel the most love, during Pride Season. That’s how it started. The first one I got was UK Black Pride, actually rewind, the first one I got was Euro Pride in Marseille, but I wasn’t able to go – I ended up being here, in Florida, to get married. [Immani does the cutest-swoon-filled giggle here. Did I mention she proposed to her wife at the open mic I host… yeah. With a ring pop. It was the sweetest thing!]
SHEREE: A different type of love event. One more personal than professional.
IMMANI: Yeah, I had to put a ring on it. Then go globe-trot. [More of that delicious laughter]. So I did UK Black Pride and spent some time in France and kind of making my way around and accidentally running into some things. Like accidentally running into Tour de France and accidentally running into a parade in Belgium. And L Fest. It’s a lesbian festival. Who knew? It’s a weekend-long lesbian camping festival, and it’s awesome. Just hundreds of tents full of women.
SHEREE: So you just found these events then… add them to the list?
IMMANI: Yes. Exactly. Last year I went back and did a pajama party. And I extended the Pride thing and went to London, and I also did a women’s festival in Greece and things like that. So it kind of just organically grew from just stretching out my imagination. I did a burlesque festival, and was like, I kind of fit into burlesque. And then the next thing I know, I’m invited to burlesque festivals I didn’t expect to go to.
SHEREE: Did you expect the kind of welcome you encountered? Or were you like, I’m just going to go through it and just see what it do?
IMMANI: There was no expectation other than I’m here. I’m here, we gone see if this works, and I think it was tough for me the second year—the first year it was like ‘okay this is awesome. I can do this.’ I was in the London Pride Parade with a group of lesbians called Planet London and they have an app and website specifically for women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, and any events and services we may need, this website has it for women in England. So I was in the parade with them. It was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ Then last year, they invited me again. Last year, we were based in Brighton, which is a beach town. I did Brighton’s parade, and the one time I’m in a parade—I’m not walking because I had sprained my ankle—but both parades I’ve been in, I’m walking and in the front, you know, holding a banner and making a spectacle of myself, and don’t see myself anyway. But, the year I sprain my ankle and have to ride in a van, I end up in a magazine over there.
SHEREE: Snaps. So much of the Rainbow Tour is serendipitous. Just a question of your stepping out on faith and knowing that the passion you have for your work and the passion you have for people and community just pushes you forward. It’s like the universe is rewarding you for your courage.
IMMANI: And I appreciate it. I marvel at it every time. I’m marveling at it right now. I’m looking at all the planning and thinking to myself how? How are you doing this?
SHEREE: Well, you’re doing it.
IMMANI: I honestly don’t know how…
SHEREE: So, I went to website. It details “iLove” and artists you’re taking with you, these international lovers, and when you see it, you get hyped up [This is where you can click the link and see the international lovers, get a sneak peek of their music and all that. I’m telling you. They ain’t playing]. It’s almost like an extension of what you said you were doing in the beginning, which was show love and be love, and now look at how it’s grown. Tell us how “iLove” came to be. You’ve been doing the Rainbow Tour by yourself, so why take artists with you this time?
IMMANI: I have to spread the love and share the love. It doesn’t do me any good if it’s all bottled in me. And I know how much more there is to go around. And to be able to share the experiences I’ve had these last couple of years with other up and coming artists who, you know, message me and say, ‘I like what you did. I wish I could do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you know you can.’ So, I’m going to throw you into what I do, and take you with me, let you see what I do, and you go from there and do the same thing for somebody else down the line.
SHEREE: Like pay it forward almost.
IMMANI: Yeah, play it forward.
SHEREE: Why overseas? Why push a show overseas? We could use some love over here, at home. Why is it important for you to do this show with this kind of international tone to it?
IMMANI: Because I want to spread love everywhere. If it just so happens to be Europe first, that’s fine, in the works is Australia and New Zealand. I’m making my way around. The entire world. I want to go south to Latin America. I want to go to Africa. I want to spread as much love as I can, as far as I can.
SHEREE: Do you think it’s important to take this show international or is it just a personal passion for yourself?
IMMANI: I think it’s very important. There is so much going on in the world. As far as our community, the LGBT community, as far as people of color. There’s so much going on in the world. Our news channels don’t capture the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on in this world. And I find that when I’m in Europe, I get more of the real news, less of the celebrity stuff, the fluff. I get more of the real news as opposed to the distractions from what’s happening to our brothers and sisters elsewhere. And so one of main reasons I like going is to see for myself.
For example, last year, there was a lot of talk about the refugees leaving out of Syria and going to Greece, going to Lesbos. And I had the opportunity to perform at a festival in Lesbos. And I said do I want to go where all these refugees are going? Do I want to go where all this turmoil and strife is? Yeah. Because I want to see for myself what’s going on and if it’s really as extreme as it’s portrayed on the news. Or is it being blown out of proportion, which happens a lot. And honestly it is. It’s really as bad as they say. We worked with a lot of people, who also worked for the festival, who used their time, instead of going to parties and shows, to help bring in rafts of refugees and feed them. Instead of just performing, we started raising money while we were there. Building shelters because the refugees had nothing.
SHEREE: Wow. Just wow.
IMMANI: So when I say spreading the love needs to happen everywhere.
SHEREE: What message would you give or what is it you want people to take away from your work and the Rainbow Tour. What’s the takeaway?
IMMANI: I describe the Rainbow Tour as spreading love to LGBTQ youth and adults and helping them realize they need to love themselves authentically through artistic expression. Help them to not be ashamed of their sexuality, not to be ashamed of expression, not to be ashamed of who you are as a person. Love has to transcend from yourself to others to the world. And when you open yourself up to being able to engage in love, to expect love, and give love, the world is your oyster. You can go anywhere. I mean anywhere. Just expressing love.
To learn more about Immani Love and the Rainbow Tour, which is all over Europe this Pride Season, check out www.immanilove.com. Because the tour is all-volunteer, Immani is always on the lookout for artists and sponsors, partnerships and collaborations.
Sheree L. Greer is the author of A Return to Arms (Bold Stroke Books), Stop Writing Whack Essays, and the short story collection Once and Future Lovers. A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, Sheree’s short stories and essays have appeared in Hair Trigger, The Windy City Times, Reservoir, Fictionary, and the Windy City Queer Anthology: Dispatches from the Third Coast. She has performed her work across selected venues in Milwaukee, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Tampa, where she hosts Oral Fixation, the only LGBTQ Open Mic series in Tampa Bay. Ms. Greer received a Union League of Chicago Civic Arts Foundation Award, earned her MFA at Columbia College Chicago, and currently teaches writing and literature at St. Petersburg College. Ms. Greer is also an Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund grantee and VONA alum. A novel excerpt “Prom Story in Three Parts,” received a special mention in Publishers Weeklyand appears in Best Lesbian Romance 2012.