Spoken Word: A Cultural History (Hardcover)
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A fascinating history of the art form that has transformed the cultural landscape, by one of its influential practitioners, an award-winning poet, professor, and slam champion
In 2009, when he was twenty years old, Joshua Bennett was invited to perform a spoken word poem for Barack and Michelle Obama, at the same White House "Poetry Jam" where Lin-Manuel Miranda declaimed the opening bars of a work-in-progress that would soon revolutionize American theater. That meeting is but one among many in the trajectory of Bennett's young life, as he rode the cresting wave of spoken word through the 2010s. In this book, he goes back to its roots, considering the Black Arts movement and the prominence of poetry and song in Black education; the origins of the famed Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side living room of the visionary Miguel Algarín, who hosted verse gatherings with legendary figures like Ntozake Shange and Miguel Piñero; the rapid growth of the "slam" format that was pioneered at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago; the perfect storm of spoken word's rise during the explosion of social media; and Bennett's own journey alongside his older sister, whose work to promote the form helped shape spaces online and elsewhere dedicated to literature and the pursuit of human freedom.
A celebration of voices outside the dominant cultural narrative, who boldly embraced an array of styles and forms and redefined what—and whom—the mainstream would include, Bennett's book illuminates the profound influence spoken word has had everywhere melodious words are heard, from Broadway to academia, from the podiums of political protest to cafés, schools, and rooms full of strangers all across the world.
About the Author
JOSHUA BENNETT is the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), which was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is also the author of Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), Owed (Penguin, 2020), The Study of Human Life (Penguin, 2022). He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He is a Professor of English at Dartmouth College.