Cultural Conversations: What Are Literature & Poetry For?

May 7, 2016 @ 10:00 am – 2:30 pm
High Concept Labs at Mana Contemporary Chicago
2233 S Throop St
Chicago, IL 60608
$10 Suggested Donation

Cultural Conversations: What Is Literature & Poetry For?

Join High Concept Labs, Northwestern University, and The Point Magazine for a Cultural Conversation on the relevance of Literature and Poetry at Mana Contemporary Chicago on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Hear from a panel of writers and poets on the contemporary importance of their practice, savor a free lunch, take in a presentation by Bill Savage of Northwestern University on the political and aesthetic responsibilities of literature, and enjoy a performance by members of Young Chicago Authors, creators of Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Festival.

Schedule of Events

10 to 10:30 AM       Breakfast and check-in
10:30 AM to noon  Morning Panel
………………………………Kevin Coval
………………………………Aricka Foreman
………………………………Marty McConnell
………………………………C. Russell Price
………………………………Moderated by Bea Malsky
Noon to 1 PM          Lunch (Dia de Los Tamales)
1 to 2 PM                  Keynote Speaker Bill Savage
2 to 2:30 PM ..          Performance by Young Chicago Authors (YCA)

Morning Panel Discussion
How porous and how useful are the boundaries we draw between the written and spoken word? Can poetry be apolitical? Can good poetry? How is poetry a tool—to organize, to educate, to empower—and how does a poet navigate its purpose alongside questions of artistic merit? Bea Malsky, an associate editor at The Point, moderates a panel of nationally acclaimed but locally rooted poets—Kevin Coval, Marty McConnell, and C. Russell Price—whose works are at home on stage and on paper. Their collective accolades and history of community building around poetry promise an intense and artful conversation.

Bill Savage on “The Art of Politics, the Politics of Art: Ideology, Aesthetics, & Literary Culture”

Nelson Algren once claimed that “literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.” Oscar Wilde would’ve disagreed: he wrote that “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” This conflict, between writers and readers who understand literature to be an active force in the world (for good or ill) and those who are interested in art for art’s sake, has been one of the most powerful arguments in literary culture for generations. But what if that diametric opposition is more complex? How might we judge the aesthetics of political statements (in novels like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm) or the politics of purportedly “pure” art (in novels like Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March)? In this discussion, I’ll trace the roots and branches of the opposition to avowedly political literature in literary culture, and explore the complications that this (probably false) dichotomy created from the days of Naturalist novelists to contemporary arguments about slam poetry, popular music, sports, and film.


Bill Savage by Kathleen KellyBill Savage is Associate Professor of Instruction in the English Department at Northwestern University, and also teaches at the Newberry Library. Savage teaches the literatures of the Lost and Beat Generations, as well as Chicago writers and urban studies, especially vernacular architecture, and the deeper meanings of hot dog stands and saloons. He regularly reviews books for the Chicago Tribune, and performs in live lit venues around town from Paper Machete to the Frunchroom. His next major publication is an annotated edition of George Ade’s 1931 anti-Prohibition polemic, The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet, Not Dry—Just History (forthcoming in Fall 2016 from the University of Chicago Press).




Kevin-CovalKevin Coval is a poet, author, and founder of Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB): The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the world’s largest youth poetry festival. Coval is the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, LTAB’s non-profit home, and teaches hip-hop aesthetics at The University of Illinois-Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has called him called “the voice of the new Chicago” and the Boston Globe says is “the city’s unofficial poet laureate”. Coval is the author of Schtick, L-vis Lives!: Racemusic Poems, Everyday People, Slingshots: A Hip-Hop Poetica, and More Shit Chief Keef Don’t Like. He has also written for, The Chicago Tribune, The Huffington Post, National Public Radio in Chicago, The Spoken Word Revolution: Redux (Source), Handbook of Public Pedagogy (Routledge) 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed U.S. History (Haymarket) & It Was Written: Reading Nas’s Illmatic, ed. by Michael Eric Dyson (Basic). Coval is the recent recipient of a New Voices/New Visions award from the Kennedy Center. Follow him at @kevincoval


Aricka ForemanAricka Foreman’s work has appeared in The Drunken Boat, Minnesota Review, RHINO, Day One, shuf Poetry, James Franco Review, thrush, Vinyl Poetry, PLUCK!, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation by Viking Penguin, among others. A Cave Canem graduate fellow and Callaloo fellow, she is the author of Dream With A Glass Chamber from YesYes Books. Detroit-raised and Chicago-based, Foreman is the Art co-editor at The Offing.





Marty McConnell by RJ EldridgeMarty McConnell lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she coaches individuals and groups toward building thriving, sustainable lives and organizations. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her work has recently appeared in Best American Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, Gulf Coast, andIndiana Review. Her first full-length collection, “wine for a shotgun,” received the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Awards, and was a finalist for both the Audre Lorde Award (Publishing Triangle) and the Lambda Literary Awards.





C. Russell Price by John RutkaC. Russell Price is an Appalachian genderqueer punk performance poet who lives in Chicago. Their work has been featured in Assaracus, Court Green, MiPoesias,  Nimrod International, voicemail poems, and elsewhere. They hold a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Northwestern University (where Price currently teaches poetry writing). Their chapbook Tonight, We Fuck the Trailer Park Out of Each Other will be released in June by Sibling Rivalry Press. Price works with the literary journal The Offing (a channel of the LA Review of Books) and performs across Chicago.





 Sponsor Information

The Point MagazineThe Point is a print and digital magazine of philosophical writing that embodies two distinct but complementary convictions: on the one hand, that humanistic thinking has relevance for contemporary life; on the other, that our lives are full of experiences worth thinking about. The Point adheres to no specific political or social agenda; instead, we ask our readers to participate in a dialogue between diverse intellectual traditions, personalities and points of view. The goal is a society where the examined life is not an abstract ideal but an everyday practice.

Bea Malsky is an associate editor at The Point, where she works with a wide range of literary criticism, philosophical memoir, and cultural analysis. Malsky was previously the editor-in-chief of the South Side Weekly, and is a member of the Game Changer Design Lab at the University of Chicago.


northwestern universityNorthwestern is committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community. Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies offers the following advanced degrees, among others:

MA in Literature Through advanced literary study, students grapple with the thought and creative vision of the world’s most remarkable minds: rediscover and master classic texts while exploring exciting, contemporary works, diverse genres, and cutting-edge ideas in narrative form and interpretation.

MA in Liberal Studies The part-time Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program cuts a wide swath through the humanities and social sciences, studying the work of some of the world’s most powerful thinkers. As students explore a broad variety of subject matter, they enrich their understanding of social and cultural issues and improve their ability to analyze, write and complete research.

MA/MFA in Creative Writing The part-time graduate program in creative writing provides students the opportunity to grow as artists within the specializations of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. The small-group workshop format allows for individual attention from published, award-winning faculty.


YCA_logoYoung Chicago Authors (YCA), founded in 1991, is a not-for-profit organization that engages youth in the act of telling their own stories through the exploration of writing forms such as: spoken word, investigative and verse journalism, playwriting, fiction, and realist portraiture. Over the last two decades, YCA has expanded its programs to include rigorous engagement with thousands of young people via school residencies of in-class curriculum instruction, after-school coaching, and year-round workshops that are held at YCA’s Wicker Park Headquarters on evenings during the week and daytime on weekends. At the core of this work is galvanizing youth communities as civically engaged and culturally literate citizens, focusing on essential developmental skills through Literary Arts, publication, and performance education.

LTAB_logoAll of YCA’s annual programming is celebrated in the culmination of Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB), the world’s largest youth poetry slam, now a month-long festival showcasing writers and performance. Presently, YCA directly serves more than 10,000 teens each year across 120 different Chicagoland zip codes, letting them know that their stories are essential while sharing tools and approaches for how to contribute their narratives to the city-wide and national conversations about youth, culture, and society.


HCL_Blue_Basic_LogoHigh Concept Labs (HCL) supports artists and facilitates dialog between audiences, artists, and staff. This increases access and transparency to the artistic process and fosters transformational experiences in an environment of experimentation and discovery.

HCL’s Cultural Conversations engage audiences, artists, and institutions with in-depth panels and presentations on a variety of current topics in the arts field. A full day of events includes panel discussions with leaders in the field, a complimentary lunch, and case-studies to round out and apply the presented material. Vibrant interactive sessions and networking opportunities provide growth for artistic communities and foster further development of the field.