Los Angeles Times

Teens get poetic in Classic Slam

High schoolers will recite works of their own and by the likes of Dickinson, Tupac.

- By Michael Schaub

Nia Lewis hated dodging strangers making leering comments on the street.

First, the catcalls made her angry. Then, they inspired her.

“You must understand that a body is just a body, a silhouette isn’t a definition of a woman,” Lewis writes in a poem called “Closed.”

This week, the Larchmont Charter School senior joins students from across California at the Get Lit Classic Slam in Los Angeles. This is the 18-year-old poet’s fourth time performing.

“The Classic Slam is a very exciting and nervewrack­ing experience, because I love being able to inspire others, but performing makes me really nervous,” Lewis said.

The best part, she said, is the aftermath, “when others come up to me to express that they needed to hear my words. It made me want to keep writing and sharing my experience­s.”

More than 50 high schools are sending teams to the annual Classic Slam, which takes place Thursday and Friday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and Sunday at the Ace Hotel downtown.

This year’s Classic Slam will bring together more than 300 students, many participat­ing for the first time.

Get Lit — Words Ignite has hosted the poetry slam since 2012, when 18 schools competed at the Wiltern in Koreatown.It was the brainchild of Diane Luby Lane, who taught a spoken-word poetry curriculum to highschool students in Long Beach, Compton and Watts.

The first Classic Slam featured students from the Los Angeles area, and the event has grown to include schools from as far away as Boston.

Unlike most slams, Get Lit invites students to recite classic poems, and then perform verses they’ve written in response. But the classic poems aren’t just textbook staples. Slam attendees are just as likely to hear the work of Rudy Francisco and Tupac Shakur as poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

“We always say a classic isn’t a classic because it’s old, a classic is a classic because it’s great,” Lane said. “We’re redefining what the canon is.”

Mila Cuda, 19, heard about the event from a teacher.

“I had always been interested in writing, but it wasn’t until discoverin­g Get Lit and the Classic Slam that I had a community to share my passions with,” Cuda said. “It was the community aspect, as opposed to the competitiv­e aspect, that really piqued my interest.”

This year’s judges include poets Olivia Gatwood, Sam Sax and Rudy Francisco, as well as filmmaker Carlos López Estrada (“Blindspott­ing”) and producer Pamela Adlon. (An upcoming episode of Adlon’s show “Better Things” takes place at the Classic Slam; her daughter participat­ed a few years ago.)

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