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University of Iowa News Release

Release: March 24, 2003

UI Event Celebrates Spoken Word Poetry April 3-4

"Spoken Word: Past, Present, and Future," a two day event at the University of Iowa, will celebrate poetry as an oral art form April 3-4 at the Iowa Memorial Union.

Organized by the Black Graduate & Professional Students Society, the event includes a poetry slam, performances by The Last Poets and Heru Ofori Atta, and a panel discussion featuring these artists along with UI faculty members.

Raquel Signorile, an M.I.S. graduate student and primary organizer of the event, said it is designed to showcase an art form that has become increasingly popular especially in the African-American community.

"We hope this event will enlighten many as to the impact this art has had on American culture," she said. "Some still consider it an underground art form because it hasn't gained major commercial popularity, but lately we've started to see more and more marketing campaigns featuring poets."

Signorile, an experienced poet and spoken word artist, said she is particularly excited to bring The Last Poets to Iowa City. This group formed in the 1970s and released several albums of poetry performed to beats. Their popularity has seen peaks and valleys throughout the years and is currently on the rise again as young people rediscover the art. The group has been called "the original hip hop artists" and VIBE Magazine rated their album "This Is Madness" one of the 20th Century's Best. Also participating in the event will be Heru Ofori-Atta, an international poet who was born in Ghana and now lives in Miami.

The Last Poets and Heru will join UI participants for a panel discussion Thursday, April 3 at 5 p.m. in Levitt Auditorium (290 Boyd Law Building.) The panel will consider the African historical context of spoken word and traditions that have transcended from African culture to African-American culture. They also will discuss the impact the art has had on American culture and what the future holds for the art.

The program on Friday, April 4 starts at 7 p.m. in the Second Floor Ballroom, Iowa Memorial Union, with a Poetry Slam, which is an open-microphone opportunity for anyone who wants to present a poem and be judged on the performance. The Last Poets, Heru, and other poets will judge performers based on style and originality.

Following the amateur performances, The Last Poets and Heru will perform pieces from their past and current albums starting at 8:30 p.m. The night will end with a part at the UI African-American Cultural Center, 303 Melrose Ave.

UI Sponsors of this event include: African-American world studies department, anthropology department, English department, history department, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, School of Art and Art History, President Emeritus Willard Boyd, Opportunity at Iowa, Women's Resource and Action Center, Latin and Native American Cultural Center, African American Cultural Center, Office of Affirmative Action, Campus Activities Board, Museum of Art, Graduate College, African American Council, and International Programs and its Crossing Border's Program. Local business sponsors include: Procter & Gamble, Oral-B Laboratories, NCS Pearson, Thai Flavors, and Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Signorile in advance at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT(S): Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, Program: Raquel Signorile,