Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae is an artist-scholar, who is known for her charismatic versatility and gut-wrenching content. She mixes literature, music, and theatre mainly as a spoken word artist, singer-songwriter, playwright and scholar of feminist, critical race and performance studies. She has worked in Brazil, Canada, France, Jamaica, Japan, Portugal, South Africa and the U.S.A. and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Drama and Speech-Communication at the University of Waterloo.
Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae was born Naila Keleta Mae Belvett in Mississauga, Ontario. When Naila’s parents, Mae Belvett and Gerald Belvett, were expecting her birth, Ebony Magazine published an issue that included a list of African names, along with their pronunciation and origin. Naila’s parents chose the North African name Naila for its meaning, “one who succeeds,” Keleta after her paternal grandmother and Mae after Naila’s mother. Before she was born, Naila’s parents practiced pronouncing her name using the phonetic guide Ebony had published beside it, “nah-ee-lah.” All throughout elementary and high school teachers and children had difficulty pronouncing Naila’s name, so she routinely wrote “nah-ee-lah” in parentheses beside it. From 1996 to 2005, Naila used the stage name Nah-ee-lah or her then legal name, Naila Belvett. In 2005, she changed her last name to Keleta Mae and later added the hyphen when Keleta was routinely mistaken for her middle name.
Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae started singing when she was four-years-old as a member of the children’s choir at her small church in Markham, Ontario and took classical piano lessons throughout her childhood. She wrote poems in her journal as a young child and experimented with making white sheets of paper look old. She brewed tea, steeped white paper in it and then lightly burned the edges with the flame of a candle and then wrote her poems out in calligraphy. “Freedom” was one of her first poems. At the age of nine, she wrote and performed “Goldilocks and the Three People” (an adaptation of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”) for a Speech Arts competition at her elementary school. Naila won the class competition, one for her school and went on to compete at the district school board level. By the end of highschool, Naila had appeared on Prime Time with Pamela Wallin to discuss new policies in highschools, won a provincial public speaking contest organized by the Lions Club, being nominated co-valedictorian by her classmates and performed her first spoken word poem “Rude Gyal Undressed” at a show featuring Toronto hip hop artists including Kardinal Offishall.
In 1996, she left Toronto to study Journalism and Spanish at Concordia University in Montreal. It was there that she immersed herself in the spoken word scene, writing, performing and recording poetry with musicians and eventually writing and performing plays in collaboration with Black Theatre Workshop, infinite Theatre and bcurrent. Her work in Montreal led to two artistic residencies in South Africa and a subsequent move back to Toronto in 2003 to pursue her MFA in Theatre with a specialization in Playwriting at York University. Naila started her PhD in Theatre Studies at York University in 2007, taught as a Faculty Advisor in the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College from 2009-2011 and completed her PhD degree requirements in 2011 soon after accepting a tenure-track Assistant Professor appointment at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae’s teaching philosophy is to practice a pedagogy of justice that uses divergent resource material to challenge participants to identify and interrogate the historical, social, political and cultural components of their frameworks of analysis. Her pedagogy of justice pivots on the building of a co-constituted student-teacher relationship.
Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae artistic philosophy is to create, develop and perform content that moves fluidly through aesthetics, disciplines and media while being relevant and healing in its interrogations of cultures of domination and their effects on people’s everyday lives. She has performed spoken word extensively, recorded three full length albums, (Free Dome, 2000; Free Dome: South Africa, 2002 and bloom, 2009), written two plays (stuck, 2001; No Knowledge College, 2005), co-written one play with d’bi.young (yagayah, 1999), appeared in the films “What Is INDIE?: A Look Into the World of Independent Musicians” (Stand Alone Records, 2006) and “Frail” (A Show Thoze Fascists Productions, 2002), and published one book of poetry (time to let go: a collection of writings by nah-ee-lah, 2001). She was awarded the New Scholars Prize by the International Federation for Theatre Research (2011), the Abella Scholarship for Studies in Equity from York University (2011), the Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarship from York University (2011), a Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (2008-2011) for her doctoral studies on black performance in Canada. Her art and scholarship appears in publications including alt.theatre: cultural diversity for the stage, Canadian Theatre Review, CanPlay Magazine, Testifyin’ Vol. 2: Contemporary African Canadian Plays, Chimurenga Magazine, and Some Poems by People I Like.