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Spoken Word Residencies and After School Workshops

Southern Word built its success around spoken word poetry residencies and workshops, growing into one of the nation’s leading spoken word education and youth development organizations. 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.

Southern Word places professional poet mentors in community organizations and elementary, middle, high school, and college classrooms to teach the writing and performance skills involved in spoken word poetry. These mentors model dynamic use of language to inspire young people to shift their relationship to writing and speaking for a lifetime. Southern Word does not seek to make every student into a poet. We develop writing, reading, speaking, and listening necessary for success on tests, in careers, and in life. While these residencies have primarily occurred in English Language Arts classrooms, they may also be integrated into Speech, Theatre Arts, Creative Writing, and other courses.

As a way to showcase student work and engage the broader school community, school residencies usually end with an open mic or poetry slam and an audio recording of top pieces, when funding permits. In some partnerships, we extend classroom engagement with a weekly spoken word writing workshops targeting students with high interest in writing and performing. These workshops can occur before, during, or after school.

“Today was amazing. Transformational. I’m at home reading their work from Day 1 and I’m crying, laughing, amazed, speechless, heartbroken, intrigued, and….SO proud of my students You didn’t tell me that your 3 people coming today were miracle workers. Best thing I’ve experienced in the classroom in a very long time. (Just had to share). I’m amazed.”
-Amanda Hyatt, Hillwood High School English Department Chair

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Music Production and Songwriting Programs

Not only do we spend a significant amount of time listening to music, we shape much of our identity through our musical and lyrical choices and affiliations. Many of Southern Word’s mentors and youth engage the world at this intersection where music and words meet because we understand that this is the spot where you can reshape culture and project a self-defined identity.

During the school day, Southern Word provides songwriting and music production mentors to Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet and extends this offering to other schools on a weekly or short-term basis. After school, Southern Word staffs the audio production suite in the Nashville Public Library’s StudioNPL. Also in partnership with the Nashville Public Library, we bring music production programs to branch libraries, community organizations, and schools with mobile studios.

During the summer, we convene our entire artistic community at Summer Studio so teen writers, singers, musicians, and producers can collaborate with each other under the guidance of mentors who specialize in these various disciplines. Hosted by Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet, Nashville Public Library, and three middle schools this past summer, each summer program ends with a final listening session as well as demo recordings of the work produced.

Southern Word’s mentors are available during the school day and after school for residencies and workshops.

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Writers in the schools

In addition to placing spoken word poets in schools and community organizations, Southern Word has been placing writers of all genres into schools since 2015. Launched in partnership with the Nashville School of the Arts Writing Conservatory, Southern Word coordinates writer visits that align with a teacher’s curricular goals. This can include a reading, workshop, conversation, or writer conferences with individual or small groups of students. In the evenings, Southern Word can also arrange readings by leading writers in combination with youth writers to provide a rallying point for the literary arts at a school. This program is an excellent complement to the spoken word residency, and a few schools are adding the program as a grade-level unit builds upon the spoken word residency.

The program has placed recipients of the Whiting Award, O.Henry Prize, Pushcart Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Paterson Prize including Randall Kenan, Odie Lindsey, Jennifer Justus, Kevin Wilson, Lydia Peelle, T.R. Hummer, and Lorraine Lopez.

As part of its overarching effort to bridge traditional social boundaries, Southern Word believes boundaries within the literary arts need to be reshaped. In addition to elevating voices which have been previously marginalized or devalued, we also work to create spaces in which stories can be shared and celebrated in diverse settings with mutual appreciation and respect.

Discuss the program for your school

College programs

Using engagement in writing and performing as a thread that helps youth enter and stay in college is an important part of the complete vision for our effort. Southern Word mentors have been working at APSU, TSU, MTSU, and Nashville State to build spoken word groups that serve as supportive communities for underrepresented and first generation college students. We have also been conducting residencies at TSU and Nashville State Community College in English and Literature classrooms. At TSU, we have been extending some residencies so that poets are embedded in freshman English courses on a weekly basis, exploring methods for connecting new students to their first classroom experiences. Southern Word has also conducted workshops, events, and classroom visits at Belmont, Vanderbilt, Fisk, and Lipscomb University.

Southern Word convenes the greater Nashville college poet community during its State of the Word event in December and college slam in April. The State of the Word is a showcase for the region’s top high school and college poets hosted by Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. Participating poets eat brunch together and spend the afternoon in writing workshops prior to the showcase. In April, the Southern Word College Slam has included TSU, Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Belmont, Fisk, Southern Illinois, MTSU, WKU, APSU, Nashville State, and Columbia State since its inception.

As Tennessee strives to send and graduate more students from college, we must continue to improve connection between teacher and student, curriculum and student, curriculum and career, student and campus, and student and greater community in order to improve retention and completion.

See our Current Workshops

Youth Poet Laureate Program

Southern Word facilitates the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program and the Tennessee Youth Poet Laureate program. The Youth Poet Laureate program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, diversity and inclusion, and youth voice across Nashville and Tennessee. The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program of Southern Word, Nashville Public Library, Metro Arts, and the Metro Human Relations Commission in partnership with Urban Word, and supported by the PEN Center USA, the Academy of American Poets, and the Nashville Public Library Foundation. The Tennessee Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program by Southern Word and Urban Word.

The Youth Poet Laureate program has been successful elevating youth voice at major civic events in front of thousands of Tennesseans. In addition to the importance of having youth perspective represented in civic dialogue, teens are uniquely positioned to remind us of our commitments to our children, to our future, and to our shared ideals.

Please join our e-mail list to stay apprised of application deadlines.

Book one of the current Youth Poet Laureates

Write with Pride

Write with Pride cultivates brave and barrier-breaking spaces for LGBT+ youth in order to build community and provide resources that foster well-being. This includes conducting school workshops in collaboration with LGBT+ and GSA clubs, hosting out-of-school writing sessions and open mics, and executing a youth writer conference.

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Community Performances And Feature Events

Southern Word executes its own feature events as well as mentors and curates poetry performances for a range of community partners. We work with a team of youth who have developed their skills and have demonstrated a commitment to refining their craft with Southern Word over a number of years. These top poets are representative of the potential communication capabilities of all young people if we invest sufficiently in their development. Southern Word poets have performed in front of TEDxNashville, Tennessee Department of Education’s LEAD Conference, Leadership Nashville, Leadership Tennessee, Leadership Franklin, Metro Nashville City Council, Tennessee State Legislature, Nashville International Women’s Day, State of Nashville, Cheekwood, and at other key conferences.

Our feature events which showcase the next generation of writers, thinkers, and leaders at all stages of their development are:

State of the Word – December
With more than 400 people in attendance, the annual State of the Word showcase is one of the largest platforms in the region for top college and high school writers, poets, emcees, and spoken word artists. Prior to the shows, young writers from the area spend all day eating, writing, and building community together in partnership with Vandy Spoken Word. Additionally, three Nashville youth perform at the showcase as the final phase of the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate selection process.

Black History House – February
Poets, writers, and emcees speak on Black culture present, past, and future. The event culminates in the freestyle gallery in which poets take words from the audience and weave them into affirmations, critiques, and commentary on the realities of race. In addition to top performers, this event is a first showcase opportunity for many writers who will be tomorrow’s celebrated voices.

Tennessee Grand Slam Finals – April
As a culmination of our educational work in the schools and the community, Southern Word stages poetry slams in multiple Tennessee counties leading up to a statewide final. Poets who place in the statewide event have the opportunity of representing the area by competing at the Brave New Voices international poetry slam.

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For Businesses

Through “In Good Company,” Southern Word brings our successful community-building strategies to the workplace to improve team dynamics, encourage communication, foster creative thinking, and facilitate collaborative problem-solving. These sessions allow team members to think creatively, explore shared and unique life experiences, and develop deeper bonds that improve awareness of others. Through this engagement, your business will also be highlighting and supporting Southern Word’s work to improve student lives across Tennessee. Whether you want to build your team in an innovative way or to address communication challenges, we will work with you to design a program around the specific needs and budget of your organization.

Southern Word believes that storytelling is one of the most powerful avenues for bringing people together across boundaries and divides. As an extension of our work with businesses, Southern Word introduced “Remixing Community Through Pictures and Poetry,” which serves as a fresh and powerful access point to diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations. This workshop joins a Southern Word mentor and an in an interdisciplinary artist to offer new framing and new light for DEI conversations in the workplace through art. In this two-hour session, participants will write, draw, listen, and share stories to celebrate what can bring us together and explore what limits us in building a more diverse future.

Contact us to schedule a team building workshop

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