Past Event

Hot Seat: Spoken Word (Re)Generations with avery r. young, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, & Kevin Coval

The sharing of language, philosophy, literature, and art – the history of peoples – is the most profound bridge between societies and across cultures.” –James Leach, Former Chair, National Endowment for the Humanities

Given the potential for the humanities to deepen our understanding of a wide variety of cultural traditions, and in partnership with Young Chicago Authors, the Illinois Humanities Council has commissioned some of Chicago’s best-known, award-winning spoken word artists from diverse cultural backgrounds to creatively respond to idea that the humanities can be a “bridge between societies and across cultures.”

Spoken word artists Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, avery r. young, and Kevin Coval will share from new original works, which contemplate culture, race, and identity drawing from their shared roots in Chicago’s rich multicultural spoken word scene of the late 90’s-early 2000’s.

After each performance, each artist will be in the “hot seat,” responding to a series of questions from the other two artists. Together, they’ll explore what it means to evolve as spoken word artists and how their work impacts and is impacted by Chicago’s changing cultural landscape over the last decade.

Youth poets from Young Chicago Authors will open the show.  

The event is free and open to the public. However, registration is required and can be made via email, or by calling 312.422.5580.

Featured Spoken Word Artists:

  • Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word poet, playwright, and filmmaker whose award winning work has been featured at the White House, Apollo Theater in Harlem, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, & “Russell Simmons Presents HBO Def Poetry.” Kelly has shared stages with Mos Def, KRS-One, Sonia Sanchez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Michael Eric Dyson, Amiri Baraka, Harry Belafonte, and many more. She has hosted youth events like the Brave New Voices (Inter)national Poetry Festival, Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, and Urban Word NYC’s Citywide Slam.
  • Kevin Coval, called “The new voice of Chicago” by The Chicago Tribune, is the author of numerous poetry collections, including the American Library Association Book-of-the-Year finalist Slingshots: A Hip-Hop Poetica. Coval founded Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, recently the subject of an award-winning documentary film of the same name. Coval is Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit home of Louder Than a Bomb, and numerous other youth writing and hip hop programs. He is a native of Chicago and teaches at the School of the Art Institute and is a frequent contributor to WBEZ: Chicago Public Radio. His forthcoming book is Schtick: Jewish Assimilation and Its Discontents.
  • avery young‘s poetry blends spoken word, song, jazz, gospel, and hip hop to depict the stories of African Americans. He has written curriculum for Columbia College Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools Art Integration Department. Avery has performed with Gwendolyn Brooks, Roy Ayers, Mos Def, Les Nubians, Jill Scott, and in venues such as the Hip Hop Theatre Festival, Lollapalooza, BET, MTV, The Museum of Contemporary Art, VH1, The Hip Hop Theatre Festival, Dance Africa, Lollapalooza, and Taste of Chicago. Influenced by James Brown, Nina Simone & Gil Scott Heron, his performances are innovative and energetic.


This event, presented in partnership with Young Chicago Authors and Chicago Taiwanese American Professionals, is part of Bridging Divides, a series that draws on the humanities to help local communities address seemingly intractable social, cultural and political divides. The Bridging Divides series is made possible in part by the generous support of The Boeing Company and is part of the IHC’s Conversations on Contemporary Issues program.



The Joyce Foundation works to improve communities through the arts and the quality of life in the Great Lakes Region and across the country.

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580 at least 72 hours prior to the event. For parking locations near the facility, please visit