Get ready to hear these 'Brave New Voices'

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | July 14, 2015

Story image

Opening Ceremonies for the 18th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival took place on Wednesday, July 15 at Emory's Glenn Memorial Church.  The festival spotlights the talents of more than 600 middle school and high school poets and spoken word artists from some 60 U.S. cities, Ireland, South Africa, Bermuda and beyond.

The voices of hundreds of young poets will resonate across campus this week, as teens from across the nation and around the world arrive at Emory for the 18th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

Produced by Youth Speaks, a national organization that promotes youth development through arts education and engagement, the festival spotlights the talents of more than 600 middle school and high school poets and spoken word artists from some 60 U.S. cities, Ireland, South Africa, Bermuda and beyond, says Hodari Davis, executive producer of the festival.

The four-day festival marks the first time the program has been presented in the South, bringing some 70 events to venues at Emory and throughout Atlanta, including workshops led by acclaimed poets and writers, youth leadership development activities, and an Olympic-style poetry competition that culminates in a grand slam finale at the Woodruff Arts Center Symphony Hall in Atlanta.

Earlier featured as a hit HBO series, Brave New Voices (BNV) aims to showcase creative and impassioned youth taking the stage for electrifying performances of spoken word full of power and purpose, says Davis.

During the festival, Emory will play host to hundreds of top young poets and their mentors, who will be lodged on campus in residential housing. The university will also serve as a focal point for many festival activities, including opening ceremonies, a youth town hall meeting, workshops and performances, and a special workshop offered through Emory's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

Many of those activities and performances are free and open to the public, but some are already full. Those interested in attending are asked to register for tickets.

Festival features workshops, performances

The BNV Festival schedule of events, subject to updates, includes the following highlights:

Opening Ceremonies: Wednesday, July 15, at Emory's Glenn Memorial Church, 6 p.m.

BNV National Youth Town Hall: Thursday, July 16, at Emory's Callaway Hall and White Hall, 10 a.m.-Noon

Writing Workshops: Thursday, July 16, at Emory's Callaway Hall and White Hall, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

Queeriosity: Thursday, July 16, 2015, at Emory's White Hall, 8 p.m.

BNV Poetry Slam Quarter Finals: Friday, July 17, various Atlanta venues, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

BNV Poetry Slam Semi Finals: Friday, July 17, Atlanta's Fox Theater, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

Life is Living: Saturday, July 18, Truly Living Well Gardens, 75 Hillard Street NE, Atlanta, Noon-3 p.m.

BNV Grand Slam Finals: Saturday, July 18, Woodruff Arts Center, Symphony Hall, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

Workshop to feature MARBL materials

A special workshop offered through MARBL will give young poets an unprecedented opportunity to explore themes of poetry and protest by interacting with the archival materials of several acclaimed poets, including Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Seamus Heaney, Lucille Clifton, Mari Evans, and through a special arrangement with Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives Research Center, rapper and poet Tupac Amaru Shakur.

On Thursday, two groups of Brave New Voices poets will spend an hour circulating through select archival materials. The students will be given time to prepare a poem or response, which they'll be invited to read or perform for MARBL staff, says Gabrielle Dudley, instruction archivist and QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan) librarian, at MARBL.

"Most of the work was selected around the theme of poetry and protest, but there will be something of a buffet for everyone," Dudley says.

"While we have young people who come into MARBL all the time, which often stimulates conversation, rarely do we have an immediate poetic response," she adds. "We've never done anything quite like it, so it's a really exciting opportunity for everyone."

The workshop will also address the value of documentation in creating poetry, says Dudley. "Technology is so great, but when you've written something and you know the goal is to share it with the world, it's going to be more polished," she says. "At MARBL, they will be able to see drafts of poems, the beginnings of a poetic voice, and how meaning can change with each draft, which is something that we can lose with technology."

"The message will be, 'Hey, maybe you want to write this down, or at the least, label your drafts so that people can get a sense of that, because one day, your materials may be in an archive,'" she adds.

BNV Festival brings firsts for Atlanta

This marks the first time that the BNV Festival is being held in Atlanta since its inception in 1997 — a welcome new experience, Davis says.

"People are really enjoying Emory," he says. "This is one of the first years that we've been able to arrive early and orient people, with an extra day to get acclimated."

It also marks the first time that the festival will be largely youth led, staffed primarily by former BNV participants. "About 85 percent of the festival staff are alumni of the festival — former competitors," he says.

And if the final grand slam poetry competition sells out — which is a strong possibility — Davis says that it will represent "the largest youth poetry event ever held in Atlanta."

"It's important for Atlanta to see that youth poetry and youth arts can be a major event," Davis says. "It's not only important to listen to strong young political and artistic voices, it's important to give young people a space to say what they want to say."

Wednesday's opening ceremony will feature performances from local artists, poets and spoken-word performers from around Atlanta, including a performance by the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, Davis says. It will also showcase the kick-off to a Brave New Voices campaign focused on racial profiling and brutality.

For more information about the festival:

 Atlanta will be represented in competition by Atlanta Word Works, a long-time BNV network organization providing spoken word programming for Atlanta youth since 2008.