IN the Spotlight: Christian Wills

Christian Wills -by Joe del Tufo

The first thing I noticed about poet, artist and lyricist Christian Wills was his interesting email address configuration. His stage name is Anthem, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a song or hymn of praise or gladness…a usually rousing popular song that typifies or is identified with a particular subculture, movement, or point of view.” Gladness and subculture are perfect terms to swirl around this young man’s head. 

One of his easily found performances on Instagram is titled, “Hope for People.” It is rife with realism that is a signature element of poetry spoken by Black people, and still peppered with words like Love, Growth and Comfort. Near the end, he promises the listener that he’s “got you in my hands.”

Having known this person for just one hour by phone, I innately trust those hands to deliver. And I’m glad he is an emerging artist IN Wilmington.

He came to know Wilmington through a couple of different paths. First, when this Maryland native was visiting family during a 10th grade school break, his mother arranged for him to volunteer for Read Aloud Delaware and earn service hours. Later, after graduating from Concord High School, he matriculated into the associate’s degree program that University of Delaware offered downtown.

Rather than seeing the summer volunteer work as an obligation, he reflects back on his Read Aloud experience as foreshadowing, saying, “I credit Read Aloud for getting me exposed to the city in the first place. It got me exposed to nonprofit work. Getting my foot in that door is what would eventually lead to me working more in Wilmington.”

It was at this UD program where he started getting to know local businesses and ultimately began working at the now-defunct UDairy Creamery on Market Street, which led to the establishment of his artistic career.

“That’s how I got to know the city and the people who came in and out of the shop. What I love about Wilmington is that it’s very small and close knit. It has a town kind of a feel even though it’s a city in its own right.”

In 2017, Anthem entered the Creamery’s opening day poetry contest and won. At the same time, he successfully applied for a job. That led to him sharing his poem at the store’s opening.

He credits his former manager, Lee Anne Ahamad, for asking him to host an open mic night to celebrate National Poetry Day in early October. Right out of the gate, Wills was cultivating a scene for other artists.

“It was the first time I ever hosted any show to that degree, and the first time I performed to that caliber of an audience and people started coming out and noticing.”

It grew, and Wills says that 2019 was one of the best years the open mic night had, with special guests and performers that delivered 15-30 minute acts, and eventually led to a much larger show within The Grand Opera House. Unfortunately, both UDairy Creamery and the open mic night fell victim to COVID-19.

Since then, he’s collaborated with UK-based Lisa Fernandes and later Philadelphian Alex Mazzei on an International Slam series presented on Zoom. In addition to the Poets Laureate of Delaware, the Twin Poets, the slams have welcomed nearly thirty artists and garnered hundreds of views from international audiences. In addition to co-hosting and coordinating, Anthem performed two pieces, a song and a poem.

He can be found periodically performing at The Rock Lot, The Warehouse, Barbershop Books, and Poetry Out Loud, and events like West Side Grows’ MLK Day celebration. He has expressed a strong desire to start a collaborative non-profit in the city.

When asked about where he sees himself fitting into the Wilmington community, he says, “I’m there, but there’s still more to me that can connect with people. I’ve got one more side of the puzzle piece to fit to make my whole set complete.”

No doubt we will see much more from Wills, and in the meantime, IN Wilmington has a Proust questionnaire of sorts that might help us keep tabs on where our favorite profile subjects can be found.

IN: What are your favorite restaurants IN Wilmington? 

Wills: I love DiMaios – they were always there for me when I needed them the most. Especially when I was a college student and low on funds. 

I also love Dead Presidents. My professor showed me that place before and I’ve been there tons of times, like celebratory dinners after hosting a show. They have high-backed booths and great food. It gets better every time.

I also love the Riverfront.

IN: What are your favorite places #inWilm for cocktails and craft beer?

Wills: I don’t drink a lot but when I do, I’m a cocktail drinker. Been meaning to get to Stitch House to try something.

IN: What are your favorite Wilmington spots for live music?

Wills: Rodney Square for the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. I love just sitting there and watching the musicians going off. 

I love the different block parties that happen on Market and Shipley. Any concert on Market Street is great. The alley between Chelsea and UDairy, and right in front of The Grand.

The Rock Lot is also good, with lots of potential for family events and for the community to come out and do what they need to do for their neighbors. There is great potential to see the Lot thrive. It’s always wholesome and fun. I’ve been to the drum circles and my own events as well. 

I appreciate the richness of the art and how you can be a successful one-person show.

Even indoors – DCAD events and the UD lobby area.

IN: What are your favorite places to enjoy the great outdoors or connect with nature IN Wilmington? 

Wills: The Riverfront and going on the Riverwalk up to the observation deck. I’ve done that walk so many times. It reminds me of a piece of Maryland where I grew up. You can connect with nature, see rabbits and small animals jumping out, and see people fishing and boating and crabbing. Seeing the city from that view, it’s worth walking that whole mile down.

My mom’s house is off Washington Street, and I’d go from UDairy, up past the bridge, for about a thirty minute walk. The Baynard Boulevard trees look spectacular and the area is well put together and done up. I call it my “scenic route.” I walk past the park and PS DuPont, and generally do that walk intentionally because I enjoy it, rather than ride the bus. It made me fall in love with a little piece of Wilmington.

IN: Who are your favorite visual artists IN Wilmington? 

Wills: Shout out to Adriana Dumphry, who does photography and visual art.

Erinn Chism – her paintings are varied in terms of theme and scope and color palettes. 

Shout out to Spaceboy – I don’t know them well, but I’ve seen their visual artwork, as a store, as a company, I really want to support them in the future. Keeping the scene alive.

IN: Who are your favorite musicians IN Wilmington? 

Wills: Young Seda – he’s awesome. I’ve worked with him in the past and he’s been to a bunch of shows. 

Richard Raw, who is a really phenomenal down to earth guy with passion about what he does and gives back to community and its youth. I’ve seen a bunch of his shows. He’s what the community needs. 

Dturdle has been to a bunch of my shows, major supporter. 

IN: Who are your favorite performance-based artists IN Wilmington? 

Wills: The Twin Poets—I got to meet them at Poetry Out Loud and they came out to the last open mic I had.

For spoken word poetry, it’s Emery Marshall Jr., whose work deals with religion, spirituality, Black men and women. He speaks his truth. 

Phoenix Rhymes, she is awesome, a Black mother who speaks the truth about that in all her poetry as well.

There are so many people I can’t list but they are acknowledged and I truly do respect them. Wilmington and Delaware has a lot of talent. I wish that a lot of it was showcased more. A lot of potential getting slept on that really needs to be heard.

IN: What are your favorite community organizations or non-profits IN Wilmington? 

Wills: Wilmington Alliance were the ones that allowed me to expand from the UDairy Creamery, the first ones that gave me a shot outside the venue. The Rock Lot started to pick up year after year. They stay in touch with me to this day.

   Shout out to Downtown Visions who have always looked out for me in the city.

Creative Vision Factory, what they do and what they love and their promise of giving arts to people who have fallen flat on their luck or needed to rehabilitated themselves. They change the hearts and minds of anyone that comes in that building. I wish they had more people seeing their work. They use art as a healing method for people who need it the most. 

IN: Who are your favorite politicians or community leaders IN Wilmington? 

Wills: James Spadola is one of them. I got to meet him a few years ago then find out that he’s a musician.

Rysheema Dixon, we did a block party event for kids together.

Tizzy Lockman, I helped with her campaign.

I met Lisa Blunt Rochester randomly at UD and we had a good conversation.

Michelle Harlee gave me a lot of great guidance.

IN: What is your favorite “hidden gem” IN Wilmington? 

Wills: What I recently discovered is Fort Christina. I had no idea that it ever existed until I went to a Del Shakes event there. You can feel history of that place just walking through it, plus it’s got a water view, nature and trees, and a statue.

IN: What are your favorite events IN Wilmington? 

Wills: I loved the event I had at The Grand in March 2020, simply because it was The Grand. It was right before COVID hit, but it still got me so passionate about what could happen next.