Watson said her first encounter with the voice of God pushed her away from her current path and toward a very different world.
“I heard the voice of God, not audibly, but I was thinking about this group that I was in, and I heard a resounding 'no,'” Watson said. “That was the first time that I clearly heard God speaking into my life.”
From this moment on, her faith was revitalized. After a year-long period of exploration, Watson said she reconciled the gospel with every sphere of life. Watson said now her poetry speaks to the brokenness of the world, from gun violence to homelessness. However, her poetry is imbued not with anger, but with hope.
“I slowly got more of an understanding that, yes, there is brokenness and there is injustice,” Watson said. “But there is a real redemption for that brokenness and injustice all over this world, and I want people to know about that.”
She said her poetry lies at the intersection of spreading the gospel and seeking race reconciliation.
“I hope to be able to straddle the line between the sacred and the secular,” Watson said. “I want to blur that line.”
From politics to poetry
Watson first started composing poetry in high school, but when she came to UNC, she did not think she would continue writing. Watson started out as a political science and then public policy major, believing that this path was the only way she could make real change for her community.
Then, Watson heard about the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship. Urban Doxology writes Christian worship music meant to bridge gaps in racially divided neighborhoods.
“Basically, they are writing the soundtrack of racial reconciliation,” Watson said.
At the end of her internship, Watson said her boss asked where she saw herself in five years. Watson said she responded with the answer she thought she was supposed to give: starting a non-profit and pursuing politics. Her boss was shocked because all summer she had spoken of her love of poetry.
“By the end of the conversation, we came to the conclusion that I had been pursuing my back-up plan with all of my heart and all my resources instead of pursuing my dreams,” Watson said. “I was too scared to even acknowledge that I loved writing and that I wanted to be a poet.”
Never wanting to do anything halfway, Watson said she went all in on this new dream, with great success. She dropped her public policy major and became an African, African American and diaspora studies major with a creative writing minor.
Watson said that the moment she said 'yes' to this dream, opportunities started falling into place.
Michael McFee, a poetry professor in the creative writing department, taught Hanna two years ago in Introduction to Poetry Writing. He remembers her now not only for her energy and imagination, but also for her zeal for poetry and her strong work ethic.
“She was very serious about writing. She took suggestions not just from me but from her fellow classmates, as well,” McFee said. “To me, that’s the sign of maturity in a writer.”
Watson’s roommate, UNC senior Esosa Asemota, said Watson has shown her how beauty can come from suffering. Asemota said Watson balances authenticity with grace, speaking on the state of the world without watering down the truth, all while offering hope.
“I feel like she’s very good at contending with the horrific nature of what we see sometimes in the world, some of the evil in the world,” Asemota said. “Because she is a person of faith, she is able to incorporate that perspective as well. There is hope at the end.”
What’s next for Hanna?
Watson said long-term, she hopes to pursue Christian ministry rooted in poetry and to address racial division.
“I feel called specifically to racial reconciliation in the United States,” Watson said. “I want that to be the foundation of what I do, bringing people together, right here, walking through the process of reconciling after acknowledging the sins of America’s past.”
For now, Watson said she is excited for the challenges ahead of her.
“In a weird way, I’m excited for more of the trenches,” Watson said. “To get to this place in my life as a poet, in my life as a Christian — which is all the same life — God has allowed me to go through the ringer in some different ways. But if that means I get to be closer to him and be more satisfied in him and what he is doing in my life, then all right, let’s do it again.”