Local teens travel to D.C. in a “Quest for the Voice”


Five of the Twin Cities’ rising spoken word artists will travel to Washington, D.C. in July to compete in Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry slam festival presented by Youth Speaks. The Minnesotans will join more than 450 other young artists from across the United States and Europe. The five teens—Hieu “Chopstix” Nguyen, Jeremy Levinger, William Bryan, Kyra Calvert, and Quentin Blake—are all part of Quest for the Voice, a Twin Cities spoken word organization dedicated to encouraging the development of young spoken word artists as well as encouraging dialogues with the communities these artists come from.

Go Light the World, a fundraising concert by Quest for the Voice, will be held on Jun 19th at the First Universalist Church, 3400 Dupont Ave. S., Minneapolis. For more information see, myspace.com/questforthevoice.

Kyra Calvert spoke to me about her work with the group, as well as her own history of writing and performing spoken word. “I’ve been competing for 5 years, but I’ve been writing since forever,” said Calvert with a laugh. A student at Highland Park High School in St. Paul, Calvert serves as a mentor for younger poets through Quest for the Voice’s association with the Minnesota Spoken Word Association, a group led by Sha Cage and e.g. bailey.

Quest for the Voice has been the focus of a Twin Cities Public Television special, documenting the group’s performances last May in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Langston Hughes’s death. Previous members have competed at the last two Brave New Voices competitions, which started 11 years ago in San Francisco.

“We all have different voices, but we come together because we relate on at least one thing, which is poetry.”

While the five artists traveling to DC this year, as well as the members of Quest for the Voice as a whole, come from disparate backgrounds, Calvert said they find strength in their similarities. “We all have different voices, but we come together because we relate on at least one thing, which is poetry.”

It seemed especially appropriate that John Coltrane’s “Alabama”—written and recorded in 1963 just months after the Ku Klux Klan bombed a church in Birmingham, killing four black girls—was playing in the background of the coffee shop Calvert and I met at. The work of Quest for the Voice comes from a similar impulse of passionate reflection and engagement with the major issues facing urban youth, here in the Twin Cities and beyond. “Poetry and music and different forms of art are a way of getting back to what’s real,” Calvert said, “a way to look for solutions.” Spoken word, for her, is a way to speak the truth, to tell stories that often go unheard.

On June 19th, the group will be performing a fundraising concert that will also serve as a send-off as these artists embark on what is potentially a life-changing experience. For Calvert, the trip to D.C. “means what you’re saying has moved people. It means the world to me.”

Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.

Also in the Daily Planet:
Jay Gabler on The Cutt, a youth-oriented spoken-word open mic night
Dwight Hobbes on Sha Cage and e.g. bailey