Sharnell grew up in Pocomoke, but has been a part of the Crisfield artist community since the Hanging Out Art Show in May of 2019, where each artist could enter one piece of original art. Sharnell entered a piece of talking artwork called Donnie’s Songs: Warning! A brief film of her speaking about her work is captured on the CrisfieldArts Instagram account. She says this “artwork is showing that this is your mind and this is my mind side by side – so baby, if I’m dripping gold you’re dripping gold too. If I’m worth $500 dollars you’re worth $500 too. So every chance you get a chance to hear me, you get a chance to invest in me, you get a chance to believe in me. And every single time I’m going to bring you out a profit.”
Sharnell does, indeed, bring a profit to those who hear her. There is no doing her words justice by reprinting them on the page – if you can, check out the video. Sharnell “Sista Big” Tull is big of heart, as can be told by her words here, but also big in voice. Her spoken voice is a rich alto but it is her brilliance, conviction and passion which truly make it memorable. Her voice in poetry exceeds brilliance – my husband, who has attended several of Sharnell’s Open Mic nights, calls it “next level,” and I believe that is quite accurate. We were lucky to have Sharnell lead the well-attended Open Mic at the Corbin Studio and Gallery, 4 E Main Street in Crisfield, on January 16th 2020. This was meant to be the first of many Open Mics, modeled after Sharnell’s successful events at the Pocomoke Library. However, as with so many things, the pandemic has put future Open Mics on hold.
Sharnell has been writing poetry for most of her life. She described how in high school she would carry around all of the required books, but also a binder with her poems in her bag. She doesn’t often read other poets as she wants her voice to remain her own, uninfluenced, but when reading poetry for research she looks to Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Lucille Clifton.
Sharnell says that Georganna Cottman was an especially big influence on her development as a writer and a speaker. Georganna was the 4-H instructor in the Pocomoke area, and as many who grew up here will remember, owed the fishing pond and large property on Route 13 just north of town. Georganna encouraged Sharnell to participate in public speaking contests and debates, and in her senior year of high school Sharnell was the alternate to the State level competition.
Sharnell researches each poem in great depth. She described her research into a few of her poems, including The WATER: Oshun & Olodumare, posted to the Crisfield Arts & Entertainment District page. She also described to me her process for writing the poem “Featuring the Number Eight” which centers around the eight minutes a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s airway, killing him, and the eight bullets that killed Breonna Taylor. She told me that in numerology eight symbolizes rebuilding, bouncing back, and appears similar to the infinity symbol. She couldn’t imagine how these positive attributes could make sense with such violence and heartbreak. Her poem “Featuring the Number Eight” shows the rebirth of those lost into heaven as well as the rebuilding of the community around this loss.
Sharnell has written and self-published two books of poetry, Live again, the Rebirth and When April Doesn’t Bloom. When I asked about why she chose to self-publish she said she didn’t want any outside influences on the book- she wanted it to have her hands all over it, and wanted the reader “to genuinely see all of me.” Sharnell holds nothing back in her writing or her live performances. To be present for one of these is to be in the presence of an act of art that is vital, aware, passionate and above all, powerful. I fully expect Sharnell to be world famous someday. Check her out now so you can say “you knew her back when.”
You can find Sharnell on Facebook at Sista Big – The Poet or facebook.com/SistaBig/ Shop for Sharnell’s books on Amazon.
Learn more about the Crisfield Arts & Entertainment District at CrisfieldArts.org or sign up for the e-newsletter by emailing [email protected]