Meet The Fellows...

Stories of Jubilation: Kurtis Lamkin
South Carolina
Fellowship: 2014/2013

"I like for kids to use games, lyrics, rhythm, and contemplation to make poems," says Kurt, "and to cultivate the emotional stamina it takes to express what they feel." A teaching artist for 33 years, he is inspired by the West African griot tradition, incorporating poetry, song, and storytelling. He composes on and plays the kora, a type of harp-lute that he made himself. "Most kora players make their own," he says, "so you can tailor it to your hand."

Kurt has performed internationally on stage, radio, film, and television, and was one of the featured poets in the Bill Moyers documentary, Fooling With Words. He also hosted MultiKultiMove, a reading series featuring writers from around the world, and produced a radio series called, "Living Proof: Contemporary Black Literature."

His latest recording is called Big Fun. "I developed a new instrument for it," he says. "I dreamed about it, so I made it." He calls it the Jinjin, and has been playing it for two or three years. "I tried to adapt a kora, but it wouldn’t work," he says. "Kora players have a real strong praise facet, along with epics. But the Jinjin has another feel to it as well, a lot of blues and jazz, along with the praise."

Kurtis lives in joy town. "We are warned against letting the aspect of play overwhelm our needs," he says. "We forget how serious we were about play, how focused and committed to it. When I work with adults, I’m part of the remembering. It’s no secret that we like our imagination. We’re still wondering; things are still coming into our minds."

He encourages young and old alike to speak and share their poems. As he told the kids at Orange Grove Elementary, "Poems take on another dimension when we put them out into the air. They become beasts, they become alive in a whole different fashion. So I say, do the poem, not just write it, do it. And then if it doesn't scare you too much -- live it."

View his short film, "The Foxes Manifesto," an animated poem with music, based on the children's protest in Soweto, South Africa

Performing "Jump Mama"

Performing "You Boss"

Performing "Condoleeza" & "The Kwelia Birds" at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Performing "We are Going Home"

Interview with Bill Moyers in Fooling With Words


Kora Songs
Queen of Carolina
El Shabazz
My Juju

His writings have been featured in the Nebula Journal of Contemporary Literature, Painted Bride Quarterly, Black American Literature Forum, Transfer, and NewCity Voices: An Anthology of Black Literature. His book is called King of the Real World.

Inspirations: The beauty of math: "Numbers are characters, formulas are stories." Working with kids: "They say what is happening."

Kurtis is Reading:
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo; Twinzilla by Barbara Hagerty; and his daughter’s college text books: "Taking me back to ancient Greece, the Middle East, anthropology, gender study, and Plato’s Republic. I’m having these same discussions with my buddies, like, who do we actually work for?"

Kurtis is Listening to:
SpiritYouAll by Bobby McFerrin; and Esperanza Spalding. He also attends open mikes for musicians-composers at Home Team BBQ in Charleston. "The music here is striking. All kinds a different stuff goin’ on in Charleston, including the praise houses."

Kurtis is Watching:
African Music Channel; the news: "too much;"; C-SPAN; Al Jazeera

(interviewed 2014)

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