Born in Denpasar, Cynthia Dewi Oka grew up as an ethnic minority and religious minority in Bali and Java. These experiences pushed her family to migrate to Vancouver, Canada, where Cynthia faced a whole other beast of diasporic experiences. Now a poet with three Pushcart Prize nominations, she lives in Philadelphia, where she partnered with Asian Arts Initiative to offer Sanctuary: A Migrant Poetry Workshop for Philly-based immigrant poets. Cynthia shares with us her journey across many borders, working as an organizer, a poet, a teacher, and a mother. We talk about martabak, motherhood, medok accents, imagination, imperialism, and immigration.
Cynthia Dewi Oka is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and author of Salvage and Nomad of Salt and Hard Water. She is also a recipient of the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award; the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Prize; the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry; the Amy Clampitt Residency (2021-2022); and scholarships from Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and Vermont Studio Center. She has performed her poetry in various venues across the US and internationally, including at The New School, The Nuyorican, Poet’s House, the Langston Hughes House, Nick Virgilio Writer’s House, Noyes Art Garage, Woman Made Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, the Philly Pigeon, the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Busboys and Poets, Writers Resist Philadelphia, The Laura Flanders Show, Split This Rock Poetry Festival, Hobart Festival of Women Writers, Festival Internacional de Poesia de la Habana, and the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. She is a contributor to ESPN’s The Undefeated the anthologies Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation (Jamii Publishing, 2019) as well as other anthologies.
Cynthia has been a poetry mentor for The Speakeasy Project, taught Foundations of Poetry for the Blue Stoop, and served as a guest poet in universities across the United States. In 2018, she visited Widener University as a featured poet in the English and Creative Writing Departments’ Distinguished Writers Series. As a Dodge Poet, she has visited and worked with young poets in high schools through mini-festivals across New Jersey. She has also facilitated poetry workshops for organizations and initiatives such as Community Building Art Works, FreeWrite Prison Writing Group, Women Writers in Bloom, Women’s Mobile Museum, and Training for Change.