Killing Poetry: An Interview with Javon L. Johnson.

AuthorZulu, Itibari M.

Javon L. Johnson ( is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies; Director of African American and African Diaspora Studies via the Department of Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has a M.A. and B.A. in Communications Studies from California State University, Los Angeles, and after earning his Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, he served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, as well as the program manager of History at California African American Museum in Los Angeles. In addition to Killing Poetry: Performing Blackness, Poetry Slams and the Making of Spoken Word Communities (Rutgers University Press); he is the co-editor of forthcoming The End of Chiraq: A Literary Mixtape (Northwestern University Press). Additionally, he writes for The Huffington Post, The Root, and Our Weekly, and serves on the editorial board for Text & Performance Quarterly. Additionally, Johnson is a highly awarded spoken word poet. Merging race and gender theory with comedy and lyricism, he began writing seriously in 2001. Shortly thereafter he won poetry slam nationals in 2003 (team Los Angeles), in 2004 (team Hollywood), and placed 3rd in 2005, making him one of a handful of poets to make finals three years in a row. Returning to slam after a brief hiatus, he placed 5th in 2011, 4th in 2012, and 2nd in 2013 (team Hollywood). Johnson appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, BET's Lyric Cafe, TVOnes Verses & Flow, The Arsenio Hall Show, The Steve Harvey Show, and co-wrote a documentary titled Crossover, which aired on Showtime, in collaboration with the NBA and Nike. Professor Johnson recently finished a national tour with Fiveology, a collective of spoken word poets, and currently serves on the board of Say Word, an organization that mentors teenagers and promotes creative self-expression through spoken word poetry in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times said, "From subject matter, to wordplay to delivery, he is working it out! It's hard not to have good times while watching him have a good time on stage."

IMZ: Thank you for this interview.

JLJ: Thank you for reaching out.

IMZ: What are some of the complicated issues that comprise performance poetry spaces?

JLJ: There are many. Indeed, Killing Poetry looks at race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the sexual assault in our communities, the politics of...

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