For over a decade, Chicago-based poet and educator Kevin Coval has wielded language as both cutlass and compass in the struggle for social justice. Coming to national prominence through multiple appearances on HBO’s Def Poetry, Coval has taken his place in a pantheon of contemporary writers and orators whose work is informed by a conviction not only in art’s ability to make tangible the most pressing of social crises, but also in its capacity to inspire action for remedying those ills. Coval likewise belongs to a generation of U.S. poets whose aesthetics are molded by a rich connection to their cultural heritage and an unbridled love and respect for hip-hop as community and creative form.

As a self-identified white Jewish participant in hip-hop, an artistic movement birthed and principally populated by people of color, Coval has forthrightly tackled issues of race, place,...

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