This papa's gonna preach
This papa's gonna preach
Courtesy of Miami Dade College

Father Figure

Marc Bamuthi Joseph has won four national poetry slams and appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. He's been hailed by critics as being one of the most compelling and important spoken-word performance artists. But Bamuthi Joseph shrugs off the accolades. "My greatest achievement? It's being a father. No question," the artist says. His pride in parenthood informs his work and fuels his passion. Word Becomes Flesh, the performance that has won Bamuthi Joseph overwhelming praise, is presented as a series of letters to his then-unborn child. Bamuthi Joseph isn't afraid to go places most artists haven't been before. "For young people in particular, it's brand-new for them to see an African-American man making himself vulnerable onstage," he says.

Bamuthi Joseph does more than merely address the theme of absentee fathers in the African-American community. Through his work with The Living Word Project -- the resident theater company of Youth Speaks, an organization emerging as the nation's leading spoken-word institute -- he's providing fatherlike guidance to classes of young poets. "Just as Shakespeare and Homer created poetry specifically to be performed, we're doing the same thing. Except we're informed by hip-hop culture, so the work is interdisciplinary, it's young, it's fast, and it has what we call narrative integrity," Bamuthi Joseph explains. His performances are at turns furious, tender, upbeat, and poignant. And while using his performance as pedagogy, he remains careful to not go the Bill Cosby route of pointing the finger at the African-American community. The poet explains, "I don't want to be didactic or dogmatic. We already have enough talking heads. I try to get folks to ask questions of themselves, and I think that's what gives the work its power."


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