Chicago Poet Kevin Coval Addresses Race and Violence During Loyola Performance

Miguel RuizKevin Coval (pictured) reads from his book, “A People’s History of Chicago.” Miguel Ruiz

Kevin Coval is a Chicagoan trying to make a change. He’s the artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, an organization that aims to inspire the young people of Chicago to express themselves through the teachings and principles of hip-hop. His passion for poetry was tangible as he spoke to an audience of Loyola students and professors Oct. 26 during his moving performance in the Damen Den of the Lake Shore Campus.

Aside from his role as an activist, Coval is a professor of hip-hop aesthetics at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Coval’s love for hip-hop and poetry led him to create the “Louder Than A Bomb” organization, which encourages kids from the Chicagoland area to engage poetry. This love is the inspiration for the 2010 documentary “Louder than a bomb,” which follows the lives of high school poets as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest poetry slam.

Coval is the author of 10 books, including “Schtick” and “This is Modern Art: A Play.” His latest work, “A People’s History of Chicago,” is a compilation of 77 poems representing the 77 neighborhoods of Chicago; the book chronicles the evolution of the city from the time of the Native Americans, all the way to the present. Coval performed three of these poems at Loyola and was accompanied by various Loyola students performing poems of their own, as well as DJ Ca$hira, who provided music for the event. The audience quietly snapped when a particularly powerful line was delivered, as the students spoke about what it means to be a person of color, what it feels like to suffer from mental illness and what it really means to be a man.

Coval then took the stage and performed a poem titled “Muddy Waters Goes Electric-1945,” detailing the introduction of black culture to the city through blues and modern music, serving as an homage McKinley Morganfield, the “father of modern Chicago Blues.”

Coval bravely makes known the issues Chicago faces today such as gun violence, racial tensions and capitalism.

The PHOENIX spoke with Coval about his inspiration.

“I felt drawn to create [poetry] because of the [hip-hop] culture,” Coval said. “It’s the reason why I started to write. I was in some ways given permission by all of the narratives that I was hearing in the music.”

Coval has a background in creating music and has found inspiration in various Chicago artists such as Chance the Rapper, who wrote the foreward to “A People’s History of Chicago.”

“[Chance the Rapper is] very much emblematic of the kind of young Chicagoans that are changing everything for the better,” Coval said. “I really admire him as an artist, as a bandleader, as a man and as a father.”

His philosophy revolves around the youth of Chicago and urges fellow Chicagoans to listen to young people’s needs, desires and thoughts about what they imagine for the future of the city.

By doing this, Coval is attempting to tear down the common stigmas surrounding Chicago, which has been recently labeled “Chiraq.”

“The media repeats again and again in nauseum that narrative because they have a vested interest in maintaining the rise of the prison-industrial complex and ensuring that young people and people of color are going to participate in that school-to-prison pipeline,” Coval said.

He believes that he and his organization are creating spaces that are safe for young people to be themselves.

“We imagine the work that we do as building micro-guerilla sanctuaries across the city, neighborhood to neighborhood, block to block,” Coval said.

Loyola writers can experience Coval’s workshops for themselves every Tuesday and Saturday at 1180 N. Milwaukee Ave., free of charge. Visit the Young Chicago Authors website at youngchicagoauthors.org for more information.

“A People’s History of Chicago can be ordered at a discounted price from www.haymarketbooks.org.

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