Brave New Voices Poetry Slam Grand Slam Finals Set for July 23 at San Francisco Opera House

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Youth Speaks announces the capstone of its poetry slam season with the homecoming of Brave New Voices to San Francisco as part of its 15th anniversary celebration.

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Brave New Voices celebrates first and foremost the brave young people who are standing up and entering their voices into public forums through spoken word, performance, civic and cultural leadership

This summer marks the capstone of Youth Speaks’ annual poetry slam season and the fulfillment of 15 years of commitment to youth arts education. What began in 1996 as a local phenomenon involving 37 poets and 300 audience members has grown into an international movement reaching over 250,000 young people and annual “Brave New Voices” events held on some of our nation’s greatest stages.

Brave New Voices, twice the subject of an original seven-part documentary on HBO, is a monumental festival that features teen poetry slam champions from all over the world. This year it will be held throughout the Bay Area from July 20 to 23, with the Finals on July 23rd. Over 500 young poets from more than 50 cities ranging from Anchorage, Alaska to Manchester, England are scheduled to perform.

“Brave New Voices celebrates first and foremost the brave young people who are standing up and entering their voices into public forums through spoken word, performance, civic and cultural leadership,” said Executive Director James Kass.

“More than any other Youth Speaks event, this festival reflects the voices of 21st Century America with young people hailing from our big cities, suburbs, farm belts, Indian reservations and Pacific territories. The participants are incredibly diverse, but what unites them are their abilities—they are all very talented.”

The team of six young poets representing the San Francisco Bay Area at Brave New Voices was selected at the regional finals of the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam at Davies Symphony Hall last May. Two teens tied for the title of Grand Slam Champion: Josh Merchant, age 19 from Oakland, and Noah St. John, age 15 from Berkeley. They will be joined by Gretchen Carvajal, age 16 from Newark; Jade Cho, age 18 from Oakland; Cassandra Euphrat Weston, age 18 from San Francisco; and EJ Walls, age 17 from San Leandro.

The Bay Area team will join hundreds of other youth in a series of workshops, moderated conversations, cultural excursions, and a film screening in addition to the festival’s adrenaline-filled open-mic events and slam competition. Programming for female participants and self-identifying queer participants, as well as a separate conference for educators fill out a busy festival schedule.

This year opening ceremonies will be held at Sproul Plaza on the campus of UC Berkeley. “As the symbolic birthplace of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s it is a fitting choice to open the festivities,” said Youth Speaks National Program Director Hodari Davis.

Participants of Brave New Voices will be treated to a special screening of the PBS documentary Freedom Riders. This riveting documentary marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders who were an important force in launching the Civil Rights Movement. The organizers of Brave New Voices hope the film will serve as inspiration to the young participants and a reminder that freedom, justice, and full citizenship do not come free.

As a testament to Youth Speaks’ tremendous work on behalf of literacy and arts education, last week the National Endowment for the Arts recognized the organization with a $35,000 grant in support of its writing and performance workshops. Youth Speaks in turn has announced that Brave New Voices will remain in San Francisco for the next five years as the organization turns to the development and reorganization of its regional networks in support of ever more robust student participation around the country.

About Brave New Voices
Brave New Voices was created by Youth Speaks in 1998 after the inaugural Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam in San Francisco, the first poetry slam dedicated to youth in the nation’s history. Since that time Brave New Voices has grown to represent youth from all across the United States and parts of Europe, making it the largest ongoing spoken word event in the world.

Brave New Voices 2011 will bring together young artists, activists, educators, poets, and emerging leaders to San Francisco to participate in a celebration and demonstration of free speech and artistic empowerment. The festival creates forums for dialogue and facilitates conversations formally and informally that foster artistic and personal growth.

Among the many planned events each year is a leadership conference, a teachers’ conference, film screenings, writing workshops, cultural excursions, a poetry slam competition, and open mics galore. In previous years Brave New Voices has taken place at the Apollo Theater in New York; the Kennedy Center in Washington DC; the Lincoln Theatre in Washington DC; the Chicago Theater; and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

About Youth Speaks
Celebrating its 15th year, San Francisco-based Youth Speaks is the leading nonprofit presenter of spoken word performance, education, and youth development programs in the country. Presenters of local and national youth poetry slams, festivals, and poetry reading series, Youth Speaks also offers a comprehensive slate of literary arts education programs during the school day and after school, and provides professional development for teachers.

All told, Youth Speaks works with approximately 45,000 teens per year in the Bay Area alone, and has created partner programs in 42 cities across the United States. The organization also publishes workbooks, CDs, and videos. For more information about Youth Speaks, visit

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James Kass
Youth Speaks
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