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Kevin Coval, Poet


Kevin Coval is a close friend who lives and will probably always live in Chicago. His last book, Slingshots (A Hip-Hop Poetica), was published on EM Press in 2005 and the book is already in its third printing. The reason the book has done so well is that its main audience, youth, have internalized the poems, rhymes, and "chaikus" Kevin writes. Kevin is white and Jewish and wrestles with issues of self, other and difference in his non-fiction essay writing and poetry. Live, he uses performance to illustrate the way in which words have subjective and objective personal and social meaning, intent and purpose. On the page, his expository writing might define a new form: the critical lyrical essay, perhaps much in the style of Eliot Weinberger's "What I Heard about Iraq." Kevin juxtaposes Judaism against racialized conceptions of white and dark so as to help youth critically address complex issues of bias and difference in their own lives as they engage emotionally charged social issues. Kevin's work encourages youth to avoid the temptation of commodification inherent in cultural appropriations. Instead, he tells youth to tell the stories that are in front of their noses, to call out the cultural and economic crimes they see enacted in their names, and to cross boundaries toward each other with humility and integrity.

Important is the contribution Kevin makes to critically looking at the role of whiteness in hip-hop. Kevin does what Gwendolyn Brooks encouraged: he writes about the story in front of his nose. He doesn't try to write like a gangsta, which he too fraid to be; he doesn't try to write like anyone he is not. Kevin uses a hip-hop poetics to tell his own story about his life and to expose political criminalities and the criminalization of culture. In doing so, Kevin highlights hip-hop's form, shape, and history; a history embedded in 1970s post-industrial economic representations by Blacks and Latin@s in the South Bronx and then nationwide. Like they did, Kevin uses hip-hop as a call and a response to contemporary events and the contemporary socio-cultural, political, and economic conditions that produce these events.

-Lisa Arrastía

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