New York Times Book Review: Prof Joshua Bennett’s “Spoken Word: A Cultural History”

Published on: April 6, 2023

How Poetry and Performance Combined to Become a New Genre

“What you say, and how you say it, means everything,” Joshua Bennett writes in the introduction to his vibrant cultural history of spoken word poetry. “Truth is embedded in the telling. Indeed, the telling is another kind of truth altogether.”

It is in the telling that the true magic of spoken word, and Bennett’s intricate exploration of its origin stories, comes alive. “Spoken Word” is an engaging meditation on the history of a literary and cultural movement that would take hold in the realms of music, theater, film, television and, of course, poetry.

The book defines spoken word as “an art form where written verse is crafted expressly with the intention of being performed,” and Bennett meticulously tracks its evolution from the earliest days of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the Lower East Side, to the first iterations of slam poetry, to the current landscape of writers and artists who rose to prominence as spoken word poets before finding success as musicians, actors, professors, activists or literary heavyweights. Drawing on in-depth research and a far-reaching reservoir of interviews with key players — as well as his own personal narrative — Bennett focuses most on the spaces and characters that brought it all together…

Written by Tas Tobey, staff on the NYT Book Review. Read more here…