Slam poetry champion Mayda del Valle to perform here Sept. 15

Slam poetry champion Mayda del Valle to perform here Sept. 15

If you’ve enjoyed watching the Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry programs on HBO, you will enjoy the upcoming talk and performance at the University of St. Thomas by national slam poetry champion Mayda del Valle.

Del Valle will perform from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Her performance is sponsored by St. Thomas’ University Lectures Committee and is free and open to the public.  For more information, call Benjamin Nebo, chair of the committee, (651) 962-6136.

Del Valle, 28, was born and raised on the south side of Chicago where she attended an all-girl’s Catholic school and where a teacher named Mrs. Kelly made her keep a journal. “That’s where I got my start,” del Valle said.

She graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Williams College in Massachusetts and settled in New York where she got her first taste of slam poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Café.

Slam poetry is said to have started in Chicago during the mid-80s by Marc Smith, a construction worker and poet. At a slam, the audience, or sometimes a volunteer from the audience, judges the poets on stage. The idea was to bring a little more life to poetry readings.

Although she hadn’t performed poetry competitively before, Del Valle won four of her first five slams in New York and qualified for the 2001 National Poetry Slam in Seattle. Only nine months after starting to slam, she wowed audiences and scored better than 250 other poets to win the 2001 National Poetry Slam individual title. That made her the youngest poet and the first Latina to win the national slam.

Chicago Sun Times reviewer Misha Davenport wrote that “Mayda del Valle has a way with words. Sometimes they seem to flutter and roll off her lips. Other times they burst forth like a comet streaking across a nighttime sky.”

Her performance at the 2001 National Poetry Slam caught the attention of Russell Simmons, who was rounding up talent for his HBO poetry program. In addition to her appearances on HBO, del Valle appeared in Simmons’ Tony Award-winning Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. In the last several years she has performed at more than 80 colleges and universities, on VH1, at the Lincoln Center, and with Norman Lear’s Declaration of Independence Tour.

Del Valle says she draws inspiration from all sort of subjects, including her family, her Puerto Rican identity, the multicultural neighborhood where she grew up, and music. “As an artist you just have to be open to be inspired.”

In her visit to St. Thomas she will perform for an hour and take questions from the audience for about 30 minutes.