'Word Becomes Flesh' performance at Logan to launch Brave New Voices poetry festival

A new generation of poets from across the country, who are speaking their minds with raw honesty through verse and rhyme, will bring their art form to the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts from Wednesday, Aug. 7 to Sunday, Aug. 11, for the 16th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

Presented by Youth Speaks Inc. in partnership with Young Chicago Authors and UChicago’s Logan Center, the festival’s programming offers writing workshops, youth development programs, “Grand Slam” finals with teen poetry champions, and related arts and culture events. The Living Word Project will kick off the festival with a performance of slam poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s critically acclaimed “choreopoem,” Word Becomes Flesh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6 in the Performance Hall at the Logan Center for the Arts.

Originally performed by Joseph as a solo piece, Word Becomes Flesh stages a series of letters from a young, single father to his unborn son through live music, dance and spoken word. Now the performance has been recreated with the six-person ensemble from the Living Word Project, the resident theater company of Youth Speaks. Joseph and The Living Word Project previously collaborated with UChicago’s Director of Arts and Public Life Theaster Gates on the performance, “red, black, and GREEN: a blues,” performed last year at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Word Becomes Flesh is significant because it takes the words from the spoken word tradition and turns them into a full theatrical production,” said Emily Hooper Lansana, associate director of community arts engagement for Arts and Public Life and the Logan Center. “It’s different from coming to see a competition; it’s an opportunity to see and hear the most powerful words staged and brought to life in a really different way.”

Shaan Heng-Devan, who, together with fellow student Nina Coomes, is helping to organize the Brave New Voices festival, co-founded the student organization for poets, Catcher in the Rhyme. Heng-Devan is working to ensure that people on the South Side have access to Joseph’s message and the words of all the Brave New Voices youth who will be on campus to perform.

“I work on getting young people who know what poetry slam is and everyone else on the South Side to come to Brave New Voices," said Heng-Devan. 

For both Hooper Lansana and Heng-Devan, hosting the performance on campus is another opportunity to expose the South Side community to a diverse offering of literary and performing arts experiences at the Logan Center for the Arts, the Arts Incubator in Washington Park and other UChicago Arts venues.  

The Brave New Voices Youth Poetry Slam Festival and Word Becomes Flesh also offer the young, competitive poets from cities across the country a chance to engage with an artistically and culturally rich area they may not have experienced before. Through their interactions with one another, they “realize the world is so much bigger than the corner they’re from,” explained avery r. young, an artist-in-residence with Arts and Public Life and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture. 

Young said that experience brings a level of awareness and acceptance that transcends competition. Brave New Voices “moves beyond competition, and becomes more like a convention of wordsmiths gathered together.”

Young believes programming like Word Becomes Flesh and his own workshop on AFRICOBRA in Chicago—a linked series of exhibitions that traces the roots and impact of the seminal group of African American artists currently on display at the South Side Community Art Center, the Logan Center and the Dusable Museum of African American History—will inspire various forms of self-expression and artistic engagement.

He hopes through this engagement the young people involved in Brave New Voices will be empowered to say, “I can be a member of the spoken word community, and a rapper, a performance artist, or whatever else I want to be.”

Tickets, which are $15 for ages 21 and under and $25 for ages over 21, may be purchased online at ticketsweb.uchicago.edu, at the Logan Center box office, or by calling 773-702-ARTS (2787).