GALO: You founded the highly successful Louder than a Bomb (LTAB), which is the largest poetry slam competition of its kind featuring Chicago area youth. I first learned about it after I was invited by a friend to attend a Chicago screening of the documentary in January. It was emotional and soul stirring, as well as hopeful; hopeful because not only did it bring people together in a way that most likely would have never happened, but also because it serves as a means to expose and create understanding and accessibility between people of different backgrounds. What was the initial goal in starting this project?

KC: In some ways, to create the public cultural spaces that I wanted to see so badly as a kid; polycultural, multi-ethnic, and radically diverse. And then, in a lot a ways, [it was] based on some of the spaces that I started to go to as a teenager that were rooted in a style or artistic practice that valued people’s expression. In those ways, LTAB is indebted to the culture of hip-hop and the organizers of hip-hop. It seeks to create and re-create similar circumstances and also uses it as a tool to engage young people in their own education; which is what hip-hop did for me.

GALO: Has LTAB surpassed your expectations?

KC: Yeah, I didn’t know what we were going to have a movie made about the festival — definitely the growth that has happened; starting with a handful of teens in a basement to 90 teams and pilot programs around the country.

GALO: Education is one of your platforms as a social commentator. In 2008, you wrote Prayer for the First Day of Chicago Public School which for me was particularly powerful because it touched on so many unspoken tragedies of the system; violence, social disparity, quality of teaching, and the out-of-touch attitudes from the powers-that-be. Ultimately, what did you want this poem to accomplish?

KC: That piece, and maybe some of the work that I do on the page and in the world, is about addressing issues of inequity, such as in education. Both in terms of, let’s say, funding and school resources. I’m interested in teasing those things out because they seem essential in having a city that is equitable. Young people are already thinking about these issues and I am interested in providing spaces for them to think out loud in public spaces about what they are affected by on a regular basis.

If you want to learn the most about a city, you have to go to its young people, which is why work like LTAB becomes essential to my work as a writer because I am interested in the stories the city has to tell. I try to go seek those stories out, which is part of the reason LTAB and the work I and the Young Chicago Authors try to do is engaged in getting young people from all over the city to tell the story of it.

GALO: Since you do work regularly with youth from all around the city, motivating them to express themselves in a safe environment through writing, performance and creativity, each child is different and comes with a different set of circumstances. What is your process of connecting with them?

KC: The great thing about trying to get anybody, young people in particular, to authentically tell their own story, is that we all have essential narratives that only we can tell. We are the only people who are walking in our own skin and have lived the lives that we have led. We’ve been failed by the historians and recorders of history who have told an inaccurate narrative, wrought in lies and deceit, and I think it’s on us to tell the history of this moment. Who better to tell it than you, or me, or any kid that is in a classroom on the West Side of Chicago who is treated like a criminal once they enter the building?

GALO: No stranger to controversy, you were under fire for your thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back in 2009. Can you explain what the issue was and the end result?

KC: There have been a couple of times when I was invited to speak at Jewish conferences because I was recognized as a Jewish poet. And then, [leaders of the conferences] got down to reading my work after inviting [me] and found out that I believe in human rights and civil rights. They felt threatened by that and I was then disinvited in a couple of instances, such as at a national Hillel conference and an inaugural conference from a lobbying organization called J-Street. I was also excused from an artist residency that I had at the University of Chicago’s Hillel for similar [reasons].

GALO: How much, for this particular discord, and in general, do you care about other’s reactions to your work, versus your commitment to staying true to yourself and “representing?”

KC: I care a lot about the audience, both the readers and those listening at a live show. I’m always trying to figure out and create ways in which they will be able to hear what I’m saying in the best way possible — whether it’s a story about my mom or a piece about Palestinians not having access to hospitals and clean water. As a crafts-person, I’m always trying to hone and perfect my craft. As a person of conscience, I cannot be concerned if people are offended by what I’m saying if I’m trying my best to accurately portray a truth I perceive. If I were to alter that then that would seem contrary and antithetical to how I was reared to believe in the craft.

GALO: L-Vis Live! is your latest performance venture, based on your book that was released last year, L-Vis Lives! Racemusic Poems. You’ve said it is “an amalgamation of white boys who think they’re down.” Give a run-down of what L-Vis Lives! is about and why you decided to write it?

KC: I wrote it because I felt there was an archetype in American history that repeated itself ad nauseam. From Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor to Justin Bieber, Mac Miller or Eminem; there is the white boy who is fascinated with black culture and typically will profit from doing what he perceives to be black art more than the black innovators. Rolling Stone magazine named Eminem the “king of hip-hop.” And DJ Kool Herc, one of hip-hop’s founders and godfathers, does not have healthcare. That seems like a grand injustice to me.

It also seemed interesting to me that, in some cases, the white boy who is drawn to black culture or black music is because he or she knows that something is wrong with the homogenized, hegemonic space of whiteness, and so is interested in an other.

GALO: Was that you?

KC: Yes, in the sense that I wanted to cross the boundaries I saw around me, in order to begin to have a life that was interested in creating equity and justice. Then using whatever resources I had in order to deconstruct a narrative of white supremacy to then re-imagine and re-create a world through art and culture, followed by politics and systems. I think hip-hop taught me to do that. Culture and the artist’s poetical, political imagination can affect the way people think. That is the role of art and culture through time.

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