A people’s history of Kevin Coval | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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A people’s history of Kevin Coval

For decades the cofounder of Louder Than a Bomb has nurtured young voices and built vital communities in Chicago’s poetry, spoken-word, and hip-hop scenes. Now people whose lives he’s touched help tell his story.

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Kevin Coval - PHOTO BY DEUN IVORY
  • Photo by Deun Ivory
  • Kevin Coval

On the evening of Saturday, March 4, a multigenerational crowd wrapped halfway around the block outside the Harold Washington Library; teenagers with braces waited in line alongside silver-haired senior citizens. Everyone had come to celebrate A People's History of Chicago (Haymarket Books), a new collection by Chicago poet Kevin Coval. It was Coval's show, but he spent more time talking about other people than he did reading his poems. Many of them spoke, read, sang, or rapped on his behalf, including poet and Third World Press founder Haki Madhubuti, poet and playwright Angela Jackson, radical writer and activist Bill Ayers, poet Nate Marshall, journalist Alex Kotlowitz, poet and soul singer Jamila Woods, and rapper Mick Jenkins.

Coval puts community first, and he walks the walk. He's the creative director of Young Chicago Authors, the Wicker Park youth writing center founded by Bob Boone in 1991. He's been working for the organization since 1999, and in 2001 he and his colleague Anna West (later YCA's executive director) founded Louder Than a Bomb, which now calls itself the largest youth performance-poetry competition in the world. This winter about 120 teams, each of which selected on average six to eight performers, competed in the 17th LTAB, which also paid tribute to iconic poet Gwendolyn Brooks in her centennial year. LTAB wrapped up its monthlong season with the team finals at the Auditorium Theatre on Saturday, March 18, but Coval hasn't stopped working with the participants; at a recent People's History of Chicago event at Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park, he invited a handful to read. 

Coval, 42, understands the importance of mentoring young people and elevating the voices of the marginalized. With YCA and LTAB he's helped foster a community of artists he says have "really set the course for how music is for the world." YCA's website lists several musician alumni on its page for the open mike Wordplay: Mick Jenkins, Jamila Woods, Noname, Saba, Nico Segal, and Chance the Rapper, who wrote the introduction to A People's History of Chicago.

Coval's new collection grew out of research he did for a different book on the gentrification that beset Wicker Park in the 90s. He kept digging, finding stories of other gentrifying neighborhoods further and further back in time. "I was examining the history of globalization and the global economy, and how it had an effect in people's movements and migratory patterns in, around, and to Chicago," he says. "It unveiled this really rich Chicago history."

Coval's book pays homage to Howard Zinn's beloved A People's History of the United States not just in its name but also in its defiantly radical spirit. Throughout the 77 poems (one for each official "community area" in Chicago) Coval celebrates the lives of dissenters, rebels, and the oppressed, some better known than others—I learned about Henry Gerber, a Bavarian-born post-office employee who founded the country's first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, in Chicago in 1924. There's no love lost between Coval and the city's powers that be—he's especially harsh with Rahm Emanuel—but he occasionally takes a break from raking them over the coals for their moral failings in order to appeal to their humanity.

Kevin Coval recites his poem "Baby Come On: An Ode to Footwork," which appears in A People's History of Chicago. The beat is from Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap, and the dancer is Litebulb from the Era.

Music flows throughout the book too. Coval honors house legend Ron Hardy and otherworldly jazz icon Sun Ra, and recalls listening to cassettes by underground hip-hop collective Molemen (that piece originally appeared in The Breakbeat Poets, a 2015 anthology Coval edited with Nate Marshall and Quraysh Ali Lansana). Every poem bears a date—his poetic account of Chief Keef's Lollapalooza performance, for example, is labeled August 4, 2012—and some passages show how moments in history can communicate with one another. In Coval's ode to the father of gospel, Thomas Dorsey, he breaks a line halfway through the name of the label Dorsey founded, House of Music; this choice to highlight the word "house" feels like a nod to another form of music that Chicagoans would create decades later, during the twilight of disco.

Because Coval is so invested in nurturing communities and amplifying the voices of others, I decided it'd be appropriate to tell his story by talking to people in the communities that helped nurture him. I've edited together the testimony of 13 friends, relatives, and colleagues to create an oral history of his life—a people's history, if you will.

“A People’s History of Chicago”
Kevin Coval curated this group show of illustrations and other artwork that appear in his book A People’s History of Chicago. 4/15-5/20, Chicago Truborn, 1418 W. Division, 773-420-9764, chicagotruborn.com. Opening reception Sat 4/15, 6-10 PM.

The speakers:

Kevin Coval

Jamila Woods
Singer and coeditor of the forthcoming Black Girl Magic edition of The Breakbeat Poets

Bob Boone
Founder of YCA

Danny Coval
Kevin's father

Luis Rodriguez
Poet, author, and founding editor of Tia Chucha Press, who collaborated with Coval through local nonprofit the Guild Literary Complex

Will Caref
Teacher who worked with Kevin as part of the nonprofit Alternative Schools Network

Tina M. Howell
Singer-songwriter who cohosted an open mike at defunct Wicker Park shop Lit X

Avery R. Young
Multidisciplinary artist and teacher

Dennis Kim
Better known as poet and rapper Denizen Kane, who cofounded spoken-­word collective I Was Born With Two Tongues and hip-hop group Typical Cats

Rhythm
Member of performance group POE­TREE Chicago alongside YouMedia mentor Brother Mike

Eboo Patel
Founder of Chicago nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core

Malcolm London
Poet, educator, activist, rapper, and LTAB champion

Mark Eleveld
Cofounder of EM Press, which published Coval's first two books

Anthony Arnove
Activist, writer, Howard Zinn collaborator, and editorial board member at Haymarket Books


Kevin Coval My aunt Joyce [Sloane] was the producer at Second City for a long time, so I grew up there. I started working in restaurants that my dad had at 12. Most Saturday nights—before I started to play varsity basketball—we would go down to Second City. I was very young and staying out very late.

Danny Coval We go down to Second City to see the show at E.T.C. At intermission, Michael McCarthy and Mark Beltzman come and sit with us. They ask me if I wanted to do the improv stuff with them. I said, "Are you kidding? I'm not getting up on the stage." They ask Kevin. I thought he'd say no—he was 12 years old. And he said, "Sure." They took him back into the green room, and they come back and they do a skit similar to Two and a Half Men. Kevin is the son, Mark Beltzman is the single parent, and Michael McCarthy is his roommate—they do a skit, and Kevin was terrific.

Kevin Coval Jeff Garlin performed at my bar mitzvah.

Danny Coval I knew he was expressing himself in many ways. I saw it mostly on the basketball court.

Kevin Coval KRS-One called himself a poet and a teacher. So I wanted to be a poet and a teacher. He probably has had the single biggest influence in some ways on my artistic, creative, educational life. Him, Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, MC Lyte—they sent me to the library to understand who they were referencing. There was a lot of references in hip-hop that I didn't understand because I was in public education in America.

I read The Black Poets, edited by Dudley Randall. It's an anthology that came out from his press in Detroit [Broadside Press], where I read for the first time the Black Arts poets—Nikki Giovanni, Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka, and Don L. Lee, who later became Haki Madhubuti. That was the first time I felt like that was something I wanted to do.

Danny Coval At that point I know he was writing.

Kevin Coval I was taking in all this music, all this new poetic. I started to write battle-rap essays my junior year to my teachers.

Danny Coval I don't know that he ever got in trouble at school.

Kevin Coval I was immature, and I didn't have all the language. I was very mad and let them know that. It was also some personal attacks against them, because I thought that they were intentionally trying to miseducate us. I spent a lot of time in the principal's office.

Danny Coval If he got in trouble, it was nothing that they came to a parent about.

Kevin Coval I went to the Green Mill probably for the first time in '96. I signed up for the Slam, and I lost, but I advanced in the round. What I was doing, in that space especially, seemed not typical—I was rhyming and very political. But [Uptown Poetry Slam founder] Marc [Smith] was an old socialist, and so it also resonated with him. I remember it was me and another woman, who beat me. He was like, "This is a new generation."

Luis Rodriguez There was a whole lot of young people coming around. We were kind of mentors to them in many ways—they took it to new levels. That's one of the things that Kevin did, as far as making poetry slams a bigger, more powerful thing.

Kevin Coval performs "Chicago Has My Heart" (also from his new book) for Sofar Sounds Chicago.

Kevin Coval Luis Rodriguez was somebody who helped mentor me as an educator and as a writer. I was his teaching apprentice in a summer program that he did called Prism at the Guild Complex.

Luis Rodriguez The Guild Complex at one point was instrumental in everything that we were doing. I was one of the cofounders, but Michael Warr was really the visionary director of it. We connected with almost every community in Chicago, took poetry and literature all kinds of ways—including Tia Chucha Press. We were the publishing wing of Guild Complex. People could also see you can create institutions and amazing projects that can last.

Kevin Coval Luis was teaching high school students. I was probably 20, and I was one of his teaching assistants—which just meant I made photocopies, got to sit in on his classes and see him teach. 

Luis Rodriguez Kevin was one of those people that, when he was onstage or organizing the youth, people respected it. There's an authenticity that you look at with people, just like Patricia Smith or David Hernandez. There's so many others that came through—they just knew how to bridge all those gaps that exist in our societies. Kevin was one of those people.

Kevin Coval The Mad Bar, which was on Damen Avenue—they had an open mike for poets, and they had an open mike for MCs the same night. So there was a literal blend, and I stayed throughout. In that space was where I met a lot of folks who became my peers. Right down the street on Damen was Lit X, which was an Afrocentric bookstore.

Tina M. Howell It was a little bookstore where Underdog is. We had an open mike.

Kevin Coval They had a Saturday-night open-mike set, which was like church. It was where I met Avery R. Young and Dennis Kim. Mario [Smith] and Tina [Howell] hosted.

Tina M. Howell I wanted young people to come, 'cause we didn't sell alcohol or anything. People could come in and express themselves. Not only did we do the open mikes, we had parties.

Dennis Kim Even if you were underage, someone like Anacron at the Mad Bar would sneak you in, and you could do your thing. There was a DJ there. If you were young, you were broke, and you had bars, sometimes a poetry spot was the best place to go.

Tina M. Howell I had never seen a white Jewish kid with skill like Kevin had. Never.

Avery R. Young Kevin learned that lesson that young men learn in mentoring programs: speak to someone and look 'em in the eye while you're talking to them. He'd look me in the eye. I'd be like, "Why is this guy looking at me in my eyes like this?"

Dennis Kim I remember there was a time where we were trying to get him to put out a record with Galapagos4. I think I put him and Jeff [Kuglich] at Galapagos in touch.

Kevin Coval I don't remember that conversation. I would've put out a record if I would've been asked.

Dennis Kim I've never heard anyone reference Studs Terkel in a freestyle before—except Kev. So he was definitely coming from left field.

Kevin Coval I'm going to the Black Writers Conference at Chicago State, which is run by Baba Haki [Madhubuti], and Ms. Brooks is still there. Ms. Brooks and Baba Haki are in conversation with Donda West and Common's mom. And Lupe is a younger person going to open mikes with his mom at the Africa West bookstore. All of these things are starting to weave together. In those moments, we started to sense that what we were doing seemed unique.

Avery R. Young At the time we were discussing and building around justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and just a whole bunch of other things that were popping off in Chicago. This is Love Jones era.

Kevin Coval We were influencing one another. We felt like we didn't want to miss a week at the open mike. Similar to how graffiti style in New York was very tight-knit—if you went outside the city for a weekend, you could miss an innovation of style on the train. You felt something similar about that excitement about being at an open mike.

Tina M. Howell When you would hear somebody like Kevin, Avery R. Young, or even Mario—that shit made you go get your fuckin' pen and your book. You bought a new fuckin' composition book, and you put pen to paper.

Kevin Coval POETREE Chicago is also another poetry collective group, which really blurred the line—"Is this poetry? Is this hip-hop? Like, what the fuck's going on?" That was Brother Mike, Phenom, Isa Star, and Rhythm.

Rhythm It was 11 of us—we were like the Wu-Tang of poetry. Then a lot of the members ended up leaving, so it was just four of us. We'd rap, but there's singing, spoken word, and poetry throughout all of our pieces. Back then that wasn't going on, really. I think that is partly what interested Kevin in us.

Kevin Coval I was 20, 21 when I got asked into El Cuarto Año, an alternative high school on the near west side—my buddy Eboo Patel invited me into the classroom. I didn't know that I was gonna teach. I thought that I was a pretty bad teacher, since I was a bad student.

Eboo Patel I invited him to my classroom, like, a week after we met. I know he's into hip-hop; I'm teaching students who are into hip-hop. I know that he cares deeply about minority teenagers in the city; that's who I was teaching. Kevin is always up for an adventure, right? I think he discovered something about himself there. 

Kevin Coval That first day, we talked about [the Fugees'] The Score, which had come out maybe two weeks prior. Eboo's like, "The conversation you had about language was one of the most engaged conversations I've seen these students participate in around something that was related to the subject matter." He was like, "Just do that." I said, "Just bring in hip-hop records?" He's like, "Yeah."

Eboo Patel We're at the Fullerton Red Line—Kevin is still a student at DePaul. He turns to me and he says, "Do you think I have what it takes?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" He's like, "Do you think I can make it as a poet?" And I'm like, "I think what you write is beautiful and powerful." And then I'm like, "There's not that many people who make it as poets." He's like, "Do you think I could?" I said, "I think you could do anything you want, man."

  - PHOTO BY DEUN IVORY
  • Photo by Deun Ivory
  •  

Kevin Coval I dropped out of three colleges. Or was kicked out. I left Ohio University to go to a study-abroad program, where I was pushed out or kicked out. I eventually went back to DePaul—for a very short period of time, because it was not a good fit. I was very combative. I left DePaul—I walked out of class telling a professor that I should get paid half their salary because I'm teaching their class for them. It was a bad look. 

Eboo Patel Kevin's professors loved him; I met a bunch of them. [DePaul professor] Brother Wayne [Teasdale] loved Kevin, loved him like a grandson.

Kevin Coval I went with Eboo to visit with his family that summer in India. We spent two and a half weeks in Dharamsala, where we hung out with the Dalai Lama's bodyguards and played basketball. They are trash—it's more like they play tackle football on a basketball court. It's the basketball court that Richard Gere built. We stayed in the palace that Richard Gere stays in, and we were treated really well. We had an audience with the Dalai Lama, in part because of Brother Wayne's relationship with the Dalai Lama. 

Eboo Patel Kevin is wearing this chain around his neck with this little empty cup on it, and I'm shaking in my boots. The Dalai Lama, the first thing he does is he grabs this little cup on Kevin's chain and he says, "Emptiness, I love it." And Kevin launches into this Jewish theology, about the emptiness before the universe was created. He talks about how it has deep resonances with the Buddhist theology of emptiness, and the Dalai Lama settles back and strokes his chin. I'm like, "Oh my God! My friend Kevin is having a theological discourse with His Holiness the Dalai Lama." 

Kevin Coval I started to get asked into other schools. I began to develop a relationship with the Alternative Schools Network.

Will Caref I was working at Prologue Alternative High School—Kevin was one of a number of poetry teachers who came in on some type of grant, and they would come two afternoons a week to class. His classes were extremely popular—he was having a real positive effect on those kids.

Kevin Coval Will and one of his bosses started to invite me to other alternative schools.

Will Caref We created the funding stream and Kevin created the programming and brought in other poetry teachers. At one point I think we had ten schools having after-school programs that were hip-hop/poetry based.

Rhythm Kevin became more interested in helping the youth. He was working in schools, doing poetry things, and then bringing those youth to his sets so that they can do things and helping them to become better writers.

Avery R. Young What we did as 20-year-olds was say, "You know what, we're going to teach 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds to write, or give them the space to say what they want to say, and guide them through the craft of writing." Our work with the youth has definitely made the poetry scene—and hip-hop—that much more massive.

Kevin Coval I met Bob [Boone] at the Printers Row book fest in the summer of '99, and I told him what I was doing in the classroom.

Bob Boone The first thing I look for is people who genuinely enjoy the company of young people. They don't talk a good game—they really enjoy being around young people, they understand them, they like them, they're not bored by them, they're not made nervous by them. And I could see Kevin was one of the teachers we hired who's very good with kids.

Kevin Coval I started to do some of that work with YCA, and Anna [West] was working for YCA. Through our conversation, we realized we didn't know what we were doing, and we needed to be in conversation with other people. We formed this collective called the Writing Teachers Collective—we'd gather monthly, down at 2049 W. Division, which was where YCA used to be. We would share our best practices; we'd talk about some of the struggles. Increasingly we were like, "Yo, these students are incredible, they're brilliant—where is a non-criminalized cultural space in which they can have the occasion to also hear one another?" That's where the conversation about Louder Than a Bomb emerged.

Avery R. Young That was just him and Anna West thinking of something to do in response to all of these laws that were put into place that were basically targeting black and brown youth in the city. We all, as teaching artists and community partners, were like, "Yeah, let's do it. What you need us to do?"

Dennis Kim Kicking around the idea phase of LTAB, you hear your boy talk about, "Something's gonna be big, all of Chicago's gonna be involved—eventually it becomes a national phenomenon." In the beginning you're like, "Nah, bro, what? Come on, this is ridiculous."

Kevin Coval We had four or five teams the first year. I didn't even know that there'd be a second year until the response of the evening was what it was—the feeling of that gathering, of bringing together young writers from south, west, and north sides of the city in one room, one night, and hearing them in concert with one another.

Rhythm POETREE Chicago judged the first Louder Than a Bomb finals. Kevin had asked Brother Mike if we would come out. After that, anything that Kevin did and we knew about it, we would go.

Dennis Kim [Playwright] Kamilah Forbes, she ended up going to New York, became a shot caller—she worked for Def Poetry Jam. So she brought me out. She brought Kev out.

Kevin Coval I was on Def Poetry Jam in 2002, for the first season—that really began to propel my own career as an artist. Once I was on Def Poetry, I didn't need to have a job outside of poetry anymore.

Danny Coval When he was on Def Poetry Jam, boom—it really hit me that he could write and read poetry the way he did.

Kevin Coval performs "Family Feud" on Def Poetry Jam.

Kevin Coval I started to work for Def Poetry. I started to be the midwest artist rep—there weren't many Chicagoans on that show, and I was like, "Y'all are missing the hottest shit that's happening at these open mikes." The second season I was an artistic consultant, as I was for the next five seasons.

Dennis Kim Kev was really blowing up, gaining a lot of respect, not only as the dude who could do the poetry, who has the hip-hop flavor—he's really sliding into these other spaces and organizing stuff.

Kevin Coval As I began to become more of a professional artist myself, I think I was able to help younger artists also imagine that space for themselves too, because I had a better understanding of what was possible.

Mark Eleveld Out of the blue he mailed me his first manuscript, which was called Slingshots. I gave it a read. I called him, and I think we had a good hour-and-a-half conversation that was met with a lunch thereafter. I found Kevin immediately to be engaging, interested, and of the right mind-set.

Kevin Coval I published my first book in 2005.

Eboo Patel I would get so mad at Kevin when he'd talk about moving to New York. I'd be like, "What the fuck are you talking about? You can't move."

Kevin Coval I was going back and forth between Chicago and New York in part because I had a place to stay out there. I had an apartment out there, and I was consulting with Def Poetry Jam.

Mark Eleveld I remember the conversation: I'm looking at him, like, "You're a Chicago guy. What are you thinking about New York for?" It took him all of ten seconds, when we're sitting in New York—he goes, "You know what, you're right."

Bob Boone At a certain point, Louder Than a Bomb became an annual time of the year. In the fall we had something like a weekly newspaper, and right away we'd tell the kids in the program, "We're getting ready for the big slam that we're gonna have in the winter." YCA changed as Kevin changed Louder Than a Bomb, because I sort of let the change happen to add this to the program.

Kevin Coval By the time, like, '06 rolled around—we were probably five years in—I felt the beginning of a shift in some ways. We were doubling the teams every year at that point. It felt much bigger than this one theater on a Saturday night.

Dennis Kim Bruh, everybody's helped out with LTAB over the years. Kev will put you to work. If you're a homie, extended fam, you'll facilitate something.

Kevin Coval There were two teams of filmmakers that approached me in 2006. Through the conversation it was very clear that Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs were the guys to do the work of showing and sharing this story. We raised the money for the documentary, and I think that they began to film in 2008. I already knew it was a movement, 'cause we were already 60-plus teams, hundreds of kids, thousands of people in the audience. Over the course of that year—and then a year to edit—they made this documentary, Louder Than a Bomb, which pushed us over the top in some ways.

Eboo Patel I went to see that movie with Kevin. He and I sat in the back, kind of by ourselves, away from this crowd. I'm watching this movie, and the movie follows four kids and four different slam teams—Kevin's an expert voice. I have this flash, and I turn to him, and I'm like, "They wanted to make this movie about you." And he kind of shrugged. I'm like, "No, you told them to make the movie this way." And he didn't really answer me.

The trailer for the 2010 documentary Louder Than a Bomb

Kevin Coval The people that I was publishing with at the time, EM Press—after my first book, they're like, "You need to leave here. Just go to a bigger place." I really loved those guys, and they're such good guys and great editors. After the second book, they're like, "Bye." I needed a publisher, so I gave Haymarket my script. Which is L-vis Lives!

Anthony Arnove I invited him to be part of a reading—"Voices of a People's History of the United States," which is a project Howard Zinn and I started together that involves bringing together actors, musicians, poets, and other artists to bring to life the words of dissenters and dissidents in U.S. history. Kevin read, and it was remarkable. Around that same time, we started a publishing relationship with him.

Malcolm London I met Kevin when I was 15. It was my first performance at Louder Than a Bomb. I was nervous. I was in my chair, freaking out—as most who are about to perform in front of people for the first time. Afterwards he comes up to me and he's like, "Yo, your performance was dope."

Jamila Woods I met Kevin when I was in the college slam. It was the first year of the Louder Than a Bomb college slam, 2008. I was performing my poem "Apocrypha," and I speak backwards in the poem. Afterwards he came up to me, and he was like, "Wow, that was really cool." He gave me this bookmark and said he was working on an anthology about hip-hop poetry. At that time I didn't totally get why he thought my poem would fit in that; it kind of was a foreshadowing of how being involved with YCA has helped me see the influence and lineage of hip-hop and expand my idea of what hip-hop is. He was talking about the Breakbeat poetry anthology.

Malcolm London I didn't start really seeing black writers and black artists until Louder Than a Bomb and YCA—until Kevin put books in my hand. Art in general is about reflecting or understanding experience—the human experience. Being around artists who had done it before—Kevin showed me a path to livelihood.

Jamila Woods Kevin called me and was like, "Hey, YCA is putting a crew together of people who come through the festival—we'd love you to be a part of it." I remember being like, "What does putting a crew together mean?" It turned out that he was talking about the Teaching Artist Corps. It was this awesome opportunity to get training to become a teaching artist and to be part-time staff at YCA. Most of us have been through the festival and really been involved in the community of YCA. I'd only come to Wordplay for my last year of high school and through college. Kevin was kind of the leader of that group, and was really instrumental, 'cause he thought it was very important for the students in the festival to see teaching artists who look like them and who they could aspire to be.

Malcolm London Young Chicago Authors has a group of teaching artists that they employ every year, and I was in one of the first groups of young people to do that. You don't see that happening, where arts organizations are able to literally give jobs to young people who may or may not have gone to college, or who are in college, who are hungry and want to be writers and make valuable paths for themselves. Kevin and the artists that he grew up with made that life. When I first met Kevin, this didn't exist—they literally built the infrastructures and put artists on on a weekly basis, on a daily basis. Me, Noname, and Chance used to go and perform at high schools together by way of Kevin Coval.

Jamila Woods Having Louder Than a Bomb as something you can experience as a young person, and then get older and organize it yourself—that's probably been one of the most instrumental things for me as a person, in addition to as an artist. That philosophy of creating space in a segregated city, to have young people who wouldn't have met each other otherwise, to come and hear about each other's experiences. . . . I just feel very lucky to have experienced that.

Avery R. Young You can definitely look at where LTAB was when they started 17 years ago—in the basement of a cafe—to a full auditorium at the Auditorium Theatre. It's crazy. A lot of those in attendance were the students associated with the festival—over a hundred teams. Each team has about eight people. So just do the math. And those are people who made the team—that's not necessarily all the kids that are actually affected by the work in the school.

Anthony Arnove Kevin is remarkably collaborative. He's introduced us to so many other interesting poets, like Nate Marshall, like Quraysh Ali Lansana. Kevin is always thinking about the canon as it's popularly represented, as it's received in instruction, schools, and anthologies. He came to us with this idea that we thought from the start was brilliant: to revisit the canon in light of this long and productive relationship between hip-hop music, spoken-word art, and the poets who were shaped by and in turn shaped hip-hop.

Luis Rodriguez The Breakbeat Poets, that anthology—I was teaching at California State University as a scholar in residence, and that was one of the main books that I used. It's so powerful for bringing those powerful new voices out.

Jamila Woods Kevin talks about the cypher a lot—passing the mike and always expanding. The Breakbeat book happened, and it was great. He and Nate Marshall worked on that a lot, and also recognized that not everyone's voice was represented the way it could be. So then, what's next? The Black Girl Magic edition.

Kevin Coval I had a residency in Texas through the Lannan Foundation last January. I was talking with Nate a lot during that time. I was telling him about how the book that I was beginning to write, about gentrification, was kind of taking this other path. He was like, "Those are two books. So you should just write A People's History of Chicago now."

Jamila Woods I was probably the first reader on a lot of the poems. Nate did more of the overarching structure-type stuff. I just saw every poem as the fresh-out-the-­notebook draft and then kind of helped hone it, or bounced ideas off of Kevin for how it could be strengthened the second draft.

Eboo Patel One of the ways he described it to me is, "This is a book where I am not showing off everything that I can do. It's a book of restraint. It could've been three times as long, and it's not. It's a book where I have squeezed the nectar of how I feel about this city onto these pages."

Anthony Arnove The book weaves together a very important geographic location—for me, a personal location—with a history that I think is profoundly important, as well as linking up to this vital project that Howard Zinn popularized, of engaging with a different form of history from below. It extends—in a very profound way, in a way I wish Howard were here to see—that legacy. v

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