Youth Speaks: the poetic changemakers
Sometimes stories are told in the privacy of a booth, like the StoryCorps booth in the Contemporary Jewish Museum. And sometimes they’re told on stage. Jamaica Osorio is just one of the poets who performed at last year’s Brave New Voices spoken word tournament. The tournament began airing on HBO in 2009, but San Francisco’s Youth Speaks has been hosting the competition since 1998. Youth Speaks is the country’s premier organization for teen poetry slams. It creates safe spaces for teenagers around the world to freely express themselves through on-stage poetry and spoken word. Topics range from bullying, to sex, to love, hope, drugs, and even abuse by family members. This weekend Youth Speaks is hosting 500 teens from around the country in the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Contest Finals. For a preview, KALW’s Hana Baba sat down with Youth Speaks founder and executive director James Kass.
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July 20, 2011
JAMES KASS: So poetry slam is a mock Olympic style competition, poetry competition. It was started in the mid-'80s in bars in Chicago by a guy named Marc Smith, a construction worker who loved poetry. But he hated how the poetry system had been taken over by the universities and by publishing houses. And he was like, “You know, I'm going to create something that democratizes the art form.” So anybody could be a poet and anybody could be a judge of poetry.
So we took that model, we changed it slightly. We didn't do it in bars obviously because it was for teenagers. And we pre-selected judges – we didn't just pull the judges from the crowd. But it was still based on the same principle: anyone could be a writer and anyone could be a judge of writing. So sort of the combination of my sort of politics and my desire for arts. I knew that there were young people writing in the Bay Area who jus...
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