Artist Writeous Soul and the National Civil Rights Museum want to revive Memphis' slam poetry scene

Carin Malone is on a self-imposed mission.

She wants to revive what she says was a once vibrant spoken word and poetry slam culture in Memphis and bring national recognition to the Bluff City's talented poet-performers.

“Right now our name isn't in the streets like it should be,” she said of Memphis' reputation in the national and international slam poetry scenes. 

Malone is a Memphis-based spoken word artist and Memphis slam master who performs at local and national poetry slams under the stage name Writeous Soul. Poetry slams are competitions where teams or solo artists compete for prizes and recognition as slam masters.

Malone wants to create more spaces for artists like herself to learn their craft, express themselves, and move towards their creative goals.

She's working with the National Civil Rights Museum to make it happen.

Malone caught the attention of the NCRM in 2016 when she took second place in her age division at their Drop the Mic slam. The following year, she won first.

The NCRM was impressed by Malone’s skill and her ability to galvanize young people. They recruited her to help with student outreach.

“The museum is not necessarily where young people hang out. They come on field trips. They come in with their parents. But it's not something they elect to come to,” said Faith Morris, National Civil Rights Museum Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer.

In addition to serving on an advisory committee to help shape the NCRM's Drop the Mic Poetry Symposium & Slam, Malone is planning the Lyrics at the Lorraine: Black History’s Most Wanted slam. She pitched the idea to the NCRM to recognize National Poetry Month in April. It's currently scheduled for April 18 but may be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honoring black martyrs and continuing the legacy of black arts are core components in Malone’s competing, performing, and educating.

“The creatives and I have to be very intentional about moving the arts forward,” she said. “Everything we touch in that realm must be purposeful so that we focus on yielding positive results.”
 

Weaving tragedy into art 

Malone encourages anyone who wants to process thoughts and emotions to do so through poetry. Her own love of poetry was born from tragedy and trauma at nine years old.

In 1995, a fire ravaged the four-bedroom home in Moscow, Tennessee that Malone shared with her mother, grandmother, nine siblings, one aunt, and two cousins. Two of her teenage brothers aided the escape by throwing family members through a window. The boys were able to save everyone except two children, Malone’s cousins.

“I just started writing," she said. "I remember tears hitting the paper."

Since then, Malone said she has crafted and performed hundreds of works that navigate a variety of personal subjects including her faith and religious upbringing, black oppression, her father's death, and her experiences as a member of the LGBT+ community. 

She now teaches workshops locally to help others tap into their experiences and perspectives. 

“One day I might do a workshop for homeless women and the next day I might do youth,” she said.

To develop her creative coaching, Malone applied for the Orpheum Memphis Theatre Group Teaching Artist training program.

She and 11 other artists are part of the 2020 cohort who are learning best practices towards teaching and facilitating artistry for diverse groups.

Malone also performs at schools and churches and organizes local artist showcases. She established a text blast system to keep the Memphis poetry community updated on any related events. Every third Saturday she personally hosts a poetry-infused event at Indulge Lounge in East Memphis where musicians, comedians, and spoken word artists perform together. Though again, the meeting schedule may be disrupted due to the current pandemic.

Carin Malone, who performs as Writeous Soul, is a Memphis slam poetry master who's working to revive the city's spoken word culture. She's partnered with the National Civil Rights Museum to growth the scene among youth and adults. (Writeous Soul)

CIVIL RIGHTS and a New Youth Movement

Malone is grateful for the ongoing partnership with the NCRM because it gives young artists opportunities to see how their lives overlap with history.

“The arts have been a bridge for emotions [across] generations, and without it, we would not have been able to successfully find creative ways to push for change in the form of changed behavior,” she said. 

“[Malone] pulls in young people. We used her as a mentor to other poets,” said Morris.

Malone said the NCRM has been critical in her own development.

“The National Civil Rights Museum may be the one single-handed organization that changed my life from the course that it was on, and I was already on a pretty good course,” she said.

Morris acknowledged that Malone's work with the museum has amplified her platform and helped refine her talent, but credits the artist for her ability to build her own stage.

“We have given her a platform, but she is such a force," said Morris. "She creates her own opportunity.”


MOVING THE LEGACY FORWARD

Malone said the opportunities she's creating aren't just for her.

Early this month, Malone placed 18th in the 2020 Women of the World Poetry Slam in Dallas, Texas.The competition included a large field of international contenders. This was her third time in the contest and a big leap from previous performances.  

“ ... my first year, I ranked 92 of 96 poets. My second year, I ranked 44 of 96. This year, I almost made it to the final stage to win it all.”

More importantly, she helped get Memphis some well-deserved attention. 

“Memphis made progress, and they know us now. We left a mark on that competition,” she said.

As driven as she is, Malone knows building a vibrant spoken word culture in Memphis isn’t a solo project. She's simply doing her part to carry the baton as far and fast as possible.

“I am Writeous Soul, who has taken it upon herself to do what needs to be done for Memphis poetry slam to get back on course," she said. "In the process, [I'm] building a team of people that can also help this ship stay afloat in the aspect of growing it, cultivating it in a way where it is able to sit out there by itself."

Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi Hunter is a native Memphian and freelance content creator. She writes and podcasts about Memphis, faith and entrepreneurship for local and national publications, and leads a creative media assistance studio based in Memphis.
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