UW–Madison and the Spoken Word Movement

Photo of Joseph performing.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s residency takes place at a time when the UW–Madison is emerging as a key player in the national youth spoken word movement. Madison’s movement was galvanized in 2003 when Youth Speaks, the premier youth spoken word and creative writing center in the country, invited local youth to participate in that year’s national slam in Los Angeles. Campus leaders recognized the enormous potential of hip-hop culture as a tool for youth empowerment and leadership. They established Youth Speaks Wisconsin (YSW), a partnership between the university, community, and local schools, based on the programming of Youth Speaks. YSW is a division of the Office of Multicultural Arts Intitiatives (OMAI) in the UW–Madison School of Education, the only office of its kind at any institution of higher education.

Since 2003 YSW has employed spoken word and hip-hop culture as a vehicle to recruit cutting-edge student artists/activists and to infuse the campus and community with diverse expressions. The office’s major accomplishments include taking youth teams to national poetry festivals across the country, creating a weekly radio show, presenting teacher training, and establishing spoken word clubs in Madison’s and Milwaukee’s high schools. YSW was also a key player in establishing the National Youth Spoken Word Coalition (NYSWC), the umbrella organization uniting the youth spoken word movement. The program’s newest initiative is the recruitment of the inaugural class of the First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community, slated to open in the Fall of 2007.

These activities exist amidst a rich local context of hip-hop “edutainment” (educational entertainment using hip-hop as a medium) and spoken word performance. Notable local leaders include David Muhammad (Hip-Hop as a Movement Conference), Roberto Rivera (Elements of Change), Arthur Richardson (Streets of Gold Production), Brody Rose, Josh Healey (Madison Poetry Slam), Tracie Gilbert, Eric Mata, and Kyle Myhre, among others.

The OMAI, initiator of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Interdisciplinary Arts Residency and primary residency sponsor with the UW Arts Institute, eagerly anticipates the widespread impact of this residency on the university, the local community, and the Midwest region.

Willie Ney, Executive Director and Founder
Youth Speaks Wisconsin, Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI)


Madison Movement

You gotta move m’kai

You got mountains to climb

Skies to fly seas to seize

Meet new ancestors swinging in the breeze clinging to the thought that trees really be hangin onto do re mi

The melody of the melancholy mired in mud

Then risen like moons like mau mau

Like maroons must MOVE

M’kai mountains to climb skies to fly seas to seize

Seeds to roots to branches to leaves

The deepest part of god’s imagined possibilities

Billowing like a willowing wind

Are one

Are men must move…