Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Revolution Will Be Live: African American Literature and Spoken Word Poetry

[By Simone Savannah]

As I continue to research various poems and poetic texts, I am continuously inspired to discuss African American poetry’s impact on the public sphere as well as within Literature and the Humanities. As an African American poet who enjoys experimenting with both the written and the spoken, my research continues to examine the ways in which “the contemporary landscape of poetry reflects a paradigmatic shift away from the prevailing model of written and/or academic poetry and more toward spoken word poetries (Why Study African American Literature)”.

Spoken Word, often used interchangeably with Performance Poetry, sprang from various African American movements and traditions, such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Blues, The Black Arts Movement, and the 1960 Beat Poets. Spoken Word is a crafted form of oral poetry that uses enthusiasm, flow, rhythm, and body language to interact with a crowd. Many artist-activists use this powerful tool to share knowledge and encourage consciousness on issues of race, sex, class, etc. Take for instance Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Heron’s piece presents the interaction among African American musical and literary tradition that really reinforces the idea that revolution…will not be televised. It will be written, spoken, and performed. And live.

And as stated earlier, Spoken Word pushes the boundaries of the “prevailing model of written and/or academic poetry” as it continues to exist inside and outside of academia. The written and spoken craft of past historical and current historical African American poets, such as Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, and Natasha Tretheway is valuable to the unique literary culture of African American poets because they continue to teach it, write it, and perform it. As poets invested in the spoken word, they continue to model the love of language possessed by many African American poets.


  1. Hi. I am a student at the university in France. I have a keen interest in afro-american culture, especially in its oral dimension. I wish to carry out a doctoral research into afro-american spoken word poetry in the period 1960-1970. Can you recommend me a american professor, a co supervision research fellow to do it.

    Thank you in advance for helping me.

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