A fascinating history of the art form that has transformed the cultural landscape, by one of its influential practitioners, an award-winning poet, slam champion. and professor. Professor Joshua Bennett’s UK edition of the book comes out on March 16th with Square Peg Books, and the US edition will be out on March 28th with Knopf.
“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.”
“This marvelous and magnificent book on the recent past and present of Spoken Word touches hearts and minds in a soulful way! Bennett’s beautiful prose and powerful stories glow from his early Black Church origins, through his Ivy-league education, grassroots poetic formation to his precious son August Galileo listening to Coltrane! Don’t miss this superb laying bare of Black joy and genius!” —Cornel West
“Anyone who has felt the heart-racing, heart-aching, heart-breaking atmosphere of a spoken word venue; anyone who revels in the word play performance poets let reverberate on a page; poets who spit fire (of course, nothing less will do)—this is for you. Bennett captures lightning in a bottle: not just a few of spoken word’s historical touchstones, but glimpses of all that the form has wrought in its various illustrious afterlives. In addition to a history, Bennett’s work is an apt translation of the atmosphere to the page, of the history to the present, of the momentum of it all . . . Bennett clarifies for us that spoken word is no passing fad, swept away by the passage of time. It is, instead, howling wind that deserves our respect for how it transforms everything, leaving the world more exposed, more open, and more beautiful in its wake.” —Therí A. Pickens, author of Black Madness :: Mad Blackness