National Poetry Month: 5 Young Black Wordsmiths Who ‘Rock the Mic’

The roots of hip-hop are still alive and these word slingers are ruling the day

It’s the 20th Anniversary of National Poetry Month, and if you’re a fan of today’s most popular hip-hop artists—from Kendrick Lamar’s award-winning wordplay about black incarceration to Nicki Minaj’s slick and raunchy punchlines—you’ve been exposed to the centuries-old genre.

Everyday poets are finding ways not only to exhibit their craft, but monetize it via publishing deals, higher education and even banking thousands of dollars partnering with corporations for fun events for lovers of the art.

Besides your usual rap stars, here are five rocking young black poets who are doing just that:

STACEYANN CHINA performing artist and LGBT activist, Chin’s credits include The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Pittsburgh Daily, and being featured on 60 Minutes and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She also co-wrote the Tony-nominated Def Poetry Jam on Broadway and has written several works including Wildcat Woman, Stories Surrounding My Coming, as well as her autobiographical novel, The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir.

DANEZ SMITH: This spoken word artist and writer’s first claim to fame was for his thought-provoking poem, Twerking as a Radical Act of Healing. His works address social issues, from black identity to racism to sexuality, and his animated style of performance and wordplay often gets him standing ovations. He is the author of Boy and the chapbook Hands on Ya Knees. He has won slams and awards including Individual Champion at the Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

AJA MONET: She’s been described as the “true definition of an artist” by Harry Belafonte and has become a renowned poet, educator, and human rights activist. The youngest person to win the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam title, she has performed at the NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural event, and has been named “One To Watch” by the YWCA. She serves as Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC, inspiring inner-city kids with the power of poetry. She’s also worked with the Urban Arts Partnership.

AARON SAMUELS: An award-winning poet, educator, community organizer and author, Samuels has been a TEDx speaker and is a published writer with works featured in top literary publications, including Tidal Basin ReviewApogee Journal and Muzzle Magazine. He has also appeared on TV One’s Verses & Flow, HBO’s Brave New Voices, and TEDx Washington University.

ALYSIA HARRISShe received widespread acclaim for her performance That Girl on HBO’s Brave New Voices, and is a captivating member of The Strivers Row, a spoken word collective. She also launched the successful MOMMA atlas poetry tour with lyricist Jasmine Mans. An international performer, she has appeared at the United Nations and in Canada, South Africa, and the U.K. Her accolades include being a Cave Canem fellow and a winner of the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize, and her poetry has appeared in publications including Catch & Release, Columbia’s Journal of Literature and Art, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Vinyl Magazine.