“I like 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.
Kurt 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.”
Kurt has performed 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. 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.”
“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.”
View his short film, “The Foxes Manifesto,” an animated poem with music, based on the children’s protest in Soweto, South Africa
Kurt performing “You Boss”
Interview with Bill Moyers in Fooling With Words
Queen of Carolina
Kurt’s writing has 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.
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.”