On Monday, October 23, poet Kevin Coval stopped by The Xavierite’s sponsor Bookies New and Used Books to read and talk about his new book, A People’s History of Chicago.
Coval grew up in the city of Chicago, and while he went away for a while, he always came back to the city he grew up in.
“I went to school in Akron, Ohio, for two years,” Coval said, “And then I lived overseas for a year playing basketball in Wales. I got to travel a bunch, because of poetry really. But when I left Ohio, I didn’t really want to be in a small space anymore. After Wales, it was cool, and I loved it, but I wanted to come here, I wanted to come back home.”
Coval says it’s the people of Chicago that always bring him back to the city, “People work very hard here. This is a community of people who grind…I think the artists work very hard, teachers work hard, people who drive buses work very hard, and people who make food work hard.”
It is the hardworking people of his hometown that inspired Coval to write the 77 poems (one for each of the 77 neighborhoods of the city) of A People’s History of Chicago.
“I think we have a lot of greatness in this city, and we don’t always honor it enough,” Coval explained, “I wanted to put on for the city and put on for things we don’t always hold up. We haven’t done historically honoring our own, so I wanted to put on for some of those people, people I admire, people I’ve known, some of the people I’ve been influenced by.
“I also wanted to tell stories about workers winning, in this moment when workers are getting continually and historically sh*t on,” Coval continued, “And I also wanted to make sure that we are constantly talking about the maintenance of white supremacist practices in this city and how our city is radically divided along race and socioeconomic lines. We have a long way to go to be a great city, and until we eradicate those injustices, then we will not be.”
In his poems, Coval draws upon aspects of the hip-hop community to create narratives that challenge the division of the city while still highlighting the greatness of the city he grew up in.
Coval says he was first exposed to hip-hop before poetry. “Hip-hop came before poetry,” Coval said, “I didn’t really know what poetry was until hip-hop really began to break it down and send me to the library to read. The first person I remember hearing call themselves a poet was KRS-One. KRS-One called himself a poet and a teacher. So I knew from early [on] that that was a thing, that you could be a poet and a teacher.”
Hearing KRS-One propelled Coval to do the same; to combine his poetry with teaching. Now, he not only writes book, but he also teaches at UIC to become the creative director for Young Chicago Authors, and founded Louder Than A Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival.
Yet even with all of his own accomplishments and teaching, Coval said being in Chicago, he has learned a lot from the city itself.
“It taught me to work hard as a person, it taught me to put everything into the gig because the gig is also a life and a way to build a life and build a community. A lot of people in Chicago know each other through work. In other cities, you have a social scene and a social circle – and that’s cool – but I think we don’t really give a f**k about fame here. I think what we care about is: are you grinding, do you care about making this place better, and I value that about here.”
For those who wish to purchase A People’s History of Chicago, visit http://www.peopleshistorychicago.com/.