Verandah McKinney, better known as Verandah Maureen, is a poet and educator from Gowanus/Downtown Brooklyn, New York. She relocated to Texas in 2016 and eventually made her way to the Bay Area in California, where she currently resides. When thinking of where she grew up, she says that Brooklyn “will forever be home.”
Verandah’s love for writing translated in her childhood activities. Her activities included: playing school, playing with her toy typewriter, imagining herself as an author, and testing out handwriting styles. As Verandah grew into womanhood, she began to realize the power of her words, but kept her works private. Her peers urged her to perform at open mics and to share her writing with the masses. She gave in, opening herself up to a new world— spoken word. Her decision to not hold back led to endless opportunities, rooted in her passion and love for writing.
When speaking on what her work represents, Verandah proudly states, “My work definitely represents people who feel and think the things that I express, and for whatever reason, don’t express it publicly. My work represents women and young girls whom I wish I could reach through my words to comfort and validate. People and places and situations are the bulk of my work.”
Tell us who Verandah is.
Well, I go by Verandah. My stage name and brand is Verandah Maureen (my real first and middle name). I’m an elementary school leader and have been an educator for about a decade. I have taught 2nd through 9th grade, served as Dean, and as Assistant Principal in the span of my career.
I am the oldest of four (two brothers, one sister) and have always been the oldest soul and nurturer. I very often was caretaker for my siblings because both of my parents worked, and it’s probably why I have such an affinity for kids and education. As a teen and before I learned more of my parentage, I identified as just a Black girl from Brooklyn. Since learning, I identify as a Black girl from Brooklyn with Puerto Rican, Italian, and Caribbean roots. I love (obsessed is probably a better word) cats and dogs even though I’m allergic to both. My baby, a fluffy three-year-old spoiled cat I’ve had since birth named Midnight, lives with her grandparents in Brooklyn. I just love animals. A lot. I love being outside and taking in landscapes and nature even though I have terrible outdoor and indoor allergies as well.
I’m such a hippie in the sense that I wish I could just travel the world’s most beautiful places barefoot hugging furry creatures, but I will certainly need modern comforts after a while, as my brief living stint in rural China and Inner Mongolia has taught me. My husband, my best friend, keeps me grounded. We met thirteen years ago at a party on my campus, and he still looks at me with the same wonder, awe, and desire as he did the night he discovered me on my knees having chocolate syrup and peppermint schnapps poured into my mouth by a girlfriend standing over me. He is the producer (jokingly and quite seriously) of my cooking livestream on Twitch. He is my biggest fan, my loudest cheerleader, and a partner so attuned to providing for and serving me that it’s almost unfair (to the rest of the universe). He’s an only child.
What sparked your interest in poetry?
I loved writing as a kid. I had a toy typewriter; I had a blackboard and would play school with dolls and sometimes with unwilling adults. I’d practice my handwriting just to see how fancy, neat, or different I could get it to be. I was always writing stories and imagining myself as an author. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a history textbook writer or editor. Naturally as my ability to tell stories developed, I transitioned into writing poems and experimenting with different poetry forms and types of writing. Eventually, adulthood kicked in, and so did adult problems. There was power in writing whatever I felt or thought of situations and people, so I continued, but only for private consumption. The cliche of “everyone told me I should write” is quite true. They did. I didn’t want to share with the world because I thought, or rather, knew, I wasn’t good enough. It really didn’t have anything to do with my work, I thought my life in general wasn’t good enough, and therefore neither was my work, so I didn’t share it. But I loved poetry. I loved good rhyme schemes, killer lines, imagery, and all the flowery sentiments poetry had to offer. I loved it all. I wanted it for myself. I wanted poems of myself.
Anything that has to do with creative expression— song, dance, visual art, performance art— is my jam and I excel at it. Naturally.
Aside from poetry, do you possess other creative talents?
This is weird, maybe, but I love hair. My mother was a practiced cosmetologist throughout high school who always did hair as an adult, though her actual 9-5 job was working in litigation for the New York State Insurance Fund. So, I’d always watch her doing her friends’ hair on weekends or my siblings’ hair (when my brother had braids). I’d study the ways she did my hair. I’d take out what she’d done only to redo it, much to her annoyance, I’m sure. I’d replicate my hairstyle on dolls and friends. Soon, I was the house beautician doing my hair, my sister’s hair, my mother’s hair, and my brother’s braids sometimes in a single day. And I loved it. So, I can do hair. Well, braiding, weaving, coloring, relaxing. I always said that if I wasn’t an educator, I’d probably want to try to do hair full time. It’s fun and lucrative these days. That’s a super specific thing but honestly, anything that has to do with creative expression— song, dance, visual art, performance art— is my jam and I excel at it. Naturally.
How did you get into spoken word, specifically?
Taking us back to the cliche of “people told me I should write”— when I started sharing my work publicly it would be at spaces where reading poetry was relevant. In those spaces, people lost their minds over things that I’d written that I never thought were any good. They’d say “you need to go to open mics” or “you need to perform this”. So I figured, man, if people like the things that I think are trash and super juvenile, what will they think of the stuff I work on intentionally for the purpose of sharing with an audience? I decided the summer of 2011 or 2012, I forget, it’s been so long, that I would start publicly sharing work and hit up a few open mics in the city, my favorite and eventual home being The Inspired Word. A few mics a month turned into a few mics a week and sometimes a few mics a night. Then the features came. And then the voiceover and television opportunities came. And then the collaborations and travel opportunities came. The rest is an exciting beautiful history.
What does your work represent and what inspires your writing?
My work definitely represents people who feel and think the things that I express, and for whatever reason, don’t express similar publicly. My work represents women and young girls whom I wish I could reach through my words to comfort and validate. People and places and situations are the bulk of my work. Abstract thoughts and concepts are my favorite sources of inspiration. I love turning ideas and concepts on their heads and playing with meanings and understandings. Pain is a significant motivator for writing and inspiring some of the best things I’ve written. Mary J. Blige and I have a lot in common in that people have said her work was better when she was “going through”. I’ve had someone say to me before “you need your heart broken so you can give us kickass poetry again.” Well meaning, and I completely get what they were trying to express, but, cringe. My work represents the underdogs, the late bloomers, the overlooked. I’m inspired by and here for it all. And my goodness I love me some Mary. She’s inspired my ability to embrace and channel pain. I wrote a ton of my work while listening to her.
How do you keep your creativity flowing?
Breathing and overthinking. In that order. Life and all the ways in which it can be over thought is the best source of creativity for me. It’s so completely unnecessary to do and yet I thrive creatively when things are bothering me or weighing on me. Insane, I know. Lately I have been feeling… a gamut of things, I’ll say that. This has produced tons of thoughts and words that reflect things happening in and around me that I haven’t necessarily been able to share with the world. Yet.
Who are some of your favorite poets then and now?
My favorite poets were always the folks I shared the stage with and were in the room. I’d always be in awe of how other poets chose to perform, their content, their presence, everything. I’m so easily impressed and moved by art. There are too many people to name but certainly regulars at mics like The Inspired Word, Nuyorican, and Urban Juke Joint were my favorite and still are because they’ve become really good friends and acquaintances.
You’ve released a series of spoken word albums. Your most recent being your 4th studio album, The Bitter Suite. What does this project represent and what was your creative process like?
There’s a rather entertaining musical episode of Xena titled “The Bitter Suite” where Xena and Gabrielle attempt to repair their relationship after several traumatic events involving both of the children they’ve given birth to. In this episode, they travel through so many different states of being and realities reconciling the things they’ve done, where they’ve been, and everything in between.
Frank Ocean has a song titled “Sweet Life” on channel ORANGE that I would run into the ground back when the album was new, and still do to this day honestly. One day, I must have been thinking of the two entities in tandem because the conceptual album Suite Life was then born. Word play all over of course. Suite referring to a hotel suite and the way that multiple rooms exist in a single building structure each with different occupants in them. The album then is like a hotel building. There’s The Bitter Suite, an album that has grief and sadness and reconciliation and raw truths, similar to that Xena episode. There’s The Saccharine Suite (saccharine is sweet, get it?), an album that has love, happiness, sheer joy, and light. Together the two albums make The Suite Life.
The bitter with the saccharine, the grief with the joy, the reconciliation with the light— makes for a truly sweet life. It’s the balance of all things that make life worth living and I worked to reflect that with the album. The two albums can exist on their own and right now, only The Bitter Suite is out in the universe, but when the two come together, they form a multiple part conceptual album that I’m super proud of. They were previously shared (on my blog); and the unshared pieces that I sat with for a really long time, I sorted according to their vibe and what I’d planned to say with the album. Whenever something didn’t feel right, I’d shift and pivot until it did. So many groupings and regroupings, orderings and reorderings. Over the span of months all of the poems were placed exactly where they needed to be within the dark and the light, within the bitter and the saccharine.
What can we expect from you in the future?
The entire album, Suite Life, both The Bitter Suite and The Saccharine Suite merged together was supposed to be released on July 31st. A few days before release, I listened to some recordings on The Saccharine Suite and wasn’t moved. The content didn’t match what my heart was feeling or the things that I’d been going through personally, so I decided not to release the full project. Suite Life is still on the horizon, though I’m not sure when that content will feel right for the world and feel right coming from me. There are some other things in the works, none of which I am at liberty to talk about, of course, but it has been a mighty long time since my words have been in print. Usually my website and Facebook fan page are the first to get the news of new stuff being put out into the universe.
How can we stay connected with you?
I am almost everywhere. I always respond to emails. There’s my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Just search for Verandah Maureen or veemaureen and chances are I’m there. I love, love, love connecting with folks so come talk to me. I pretend to be normal on my socials— doesn’t mean I’m ever successful.