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Vision, Mission, & Overview

Through words, all youth claim the power and hope to determine their future.

Through the literary and performing arts, Southern Word offers creative solutions for youth to build literacy and presentation skills, reconnect to their education and to their lives, and act as leaders in the improvement of their communities. We are absolutely committed to providing youth, especially in underserved communities, with as many opportunities as possible to develop and publicly present their voices both live and in print, video, audio, and digital media.

Spoken Word Residencies and Workshops
Southern Word conducts spoken word school residencies, after school workshops, open mics, and shows. Spoken word, also known as performance poetry, has proven effective as a youth development, literacy, and leadership tool across the country. Students participating in spoken word programs report improvement in their reading and writing skills, increased self‐confidence, and a new sense of community among their peers and teachers. Educators report a clear rise in interest among students, a more youth‐driven learning environment, and evidence of greater social and academic confidence among students. Last year, Southern Word reached 4,000 students in schools in 5 Tennessee counties through the residency program, including almost every Nashville High School.

Music Production and Songwriting Programs
Many Southern Word mentors have capabilities in both writing and music. Southern Word provides songwriting and music production mentors to Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet. Southern Word mentors also facilitate the Nashville Public Library’s audio production suite in StudioNPL as well as mobile studios that travel to branch libraries and community settings.

Writers in the Schools
Southern Word has also begun placing guest writers of all genres in schools. We are starting off a year-long series with guest writer visits and readings at the new Nashville School of the Arts writing conservatory. We are engaging top songwriters, short fiction writers, novelists, graphic novelists, journalists, and poets in this series.

Youth Poet Laureate Program
The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program of the Office of the Mayor, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, Nashville Public Library, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Southern Word, and Urban Word. The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, diversity and tolerance, and youth voice across Nashville.

Southern Word facilitates the selection process which culminates at the State of the Word at Vanderbilt University in December. This drafts off the writer residency work Southern Word is doing in almost every Nashville High School. Southern Word also provides poet mentorship and coordination for the Youth Poet Laureate’s appearances.

In year one, the Youth Poet Laureate will have read original work at the city council, State of Metro, Nashville Public Library StudioNPL opening, MyCity Academy Graduation, and the MNAC Artober event Creo in partnership with TEDxNashville. In addition to creating her own manuscript for publishing her first book as part of the program, she was also published in Nashville Arts Magazine and the Tennessean.

Contact for more information on our spoken word, writing, and music production programs.

Board of Directors

Anderson Williams, The Advisory Board Company, Chair
Asha Hunter, American Baptist College, Treasurer
Tayo Atanda, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP
Mariah Cole, Meharry Medical College
Leslie Garcia, Lipscomb University
Ned Hildebrand, Dunham Hildebrand PLLC
Eric Holt, Belmont University
Liza Kawaller, Dwell Music City
LaVoe Mulgrew, Lead Public Schools
Dr. Michelle Pinkard, Tennessee State University
Tim Schwarz, Tennessee Regulatory Authority
Janet Walsh, EBSCO Information Services
Benjamin Smith, Executive Director

Writer Mentors

Tia Mitchell
Dylan Phillips
Rashad “thapoet” Rayford
Han Rodriguez
Anna Silverstein
Benjamin Smith
Saran Thompson
Shawn Whitsell

Writer Fellows

Leslie Garcia
Cameron Mitchell
Megan Smith
Jacqueline Swift

Music Production Mentors

Sean De Leon
Jarrel Pierson
Saran Thompson

Program & Operations Coordinator

Camille Greer

Director of Strategic Partnerships

Amber McCullough

Executive Director

Benjamin Smith

Advisory Board

Angela Crumpton
Dr. Frank Dobson
Hana Elliott
Jim Giffords
Kaila Gilbert
Alex Griffin
John Hilley
Dr. Sandra Holt
Emy Noel
Kent Oliver
Will Pinkston
Avi Poster
Molly Pratt
Linda Ragsdale
Keayana Robinson
Jim Shulman
Julie Simone
Tom Ward
Idella Woodard
Manuel Zeitlin


Southern Word’s programs and events are made possible through the generous support of foundations, businesses, schools, and individuals including:

Tennessee Arts Commission
Metro Nashville Arts Commission
National Endowment for the Arts
Youth Speaks, Inc
Nashville Public Library Foundation
Metro Nashville Public Schools
Tennessee Board of Regents
Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund
LEAD Public Schools
Cal Turner Family Foundation
Dugas Family Foundation
Memorial Foundation
Humanities Tennessee
Ida F. Cooney Fund for the Arts of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet
Explore Community School
Nashville School of the Arts
McGavock High School
Frist Foundation
Bone Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Bongo Productions
Andrew Allen Charitable Foundation
Anonymous in Honor of Jim Ridley
Mrs. Iris W. Buhl
Buhl Family Advised Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Dr. Steven and Laurie Eskind
Laurie and Steven Eskind Advised Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

©2018 Southern Word. All rights reserved.
Southern Word, 1704 Charlotte Ave, Suite 200, Nashville, TN 37203