Cultural Conversations:
What are literature and
poetry for?

May 7, 2016
10AM – 2:30PM

$10 Suggested Donation

High Concept Labs at Mana Contemporary Chicago
2233 S Throop St, Fourth Floor, Chicago, IL


Cultural Conversations: What are literature and poetry for?

Join High Concept Labs, Northwestern University, and The Point magazine for a Cultural Conversation on the relevance of Literature and Poetry. Audiences will hear from a panel of writers and poets on the contemporary importance of their practice, savor a free lunch, take in a presentation by Bill Savage of Northwestern University on the political and aesthetic responsibilities of literature, and enjoy a performance by members of Young Chicago Authors, creators of Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Festival.

Morning Panel Discussion: How porous and how useful are the boundaries we draw between the written and spoken word? Can poetry be apolitical? How is poetry a tool—to organize, to educate, to empower—and how does a poet navigate its purpose alongside questions of artistic merit? Bea Malsky, an associate editor at The Point, moderates a panel of nationally acclaimed but locally rooted poets—Kevin Coval, Marty McConnell, and C. Russell Price—whose works are at home on stage and on paper. Their collective accolades and history of community building around poetry promise an intense and artful conversation.

Bill Savage on “The Art of Politics, the Politics of Art: Ideology, Aesthetics, and Literary Culture”:

“Nelson Algren once claimed that ‘literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity.’ Oscar Wilde would have disagreed: he wrote, ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.’ This conflict, between writers and readers who understand literature to be an active force in the world (for good or ill) and those who are interested in art for art’s sake, has been one of the most powerful arguments in literary culture for generations. But what if that diametric opposition is more complex? How might we judge the aesthetics of political statements (in novels like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm) or the politics of purportedly “pure” art (in novels like Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March)? In this discussion, I’ll trace the roots and branches of the opposition to avowedly political literature in literary culture, and explore the complications that this (probably false) dichotomy created from the days of Naturalist novelists to contemporary arguments about slam poetry, popular music, sports, and film.”

Schedule of Events:
10AM – 10:30AM: Breakfast and check-in
10:30AM – 12PM: Morning Panel: Kevin Coval, C. Russell Price, Marty McConnell.
Moderated by Bea Malsky
12PM – 1PM: Lunch (Dia de Los Tamales)
1PM – 2PM: Keynote Speaker Bill Savage
2PM – 2:15PM: Performance by Young Chicago Authors (YCA)

Kevin Coval is a poet, author, and founder of Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB): The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the world's largest youth poetry festival. Coval is the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, LTAB's non-profit home, and teaches hip-hop aesthetics at The University of Illinois, Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has called him called "the voice of the new Chicago" and the Boston Globe says is "the city's unofficial poet laureate". Coval is the author of Schtick, L-vis Lives!: Racemusic Poems, Everyday People, Slingshots: A Hip-Hop Poetica, and More Shit Chief Keef Don't Like. He has also written for, The Chicago Tribune, The Huffington Post, National Public Radio in Chicago, The Spoken Word Revolution: Redux, (Source) Handbook of Public Pedagogy (Routledge) 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed U.S. History (Haymarket) and It Was Written: Reading Nas's Illmatic, ed. by Michael Eric Dyson (Basic). Coval is the recent recipient of a New Voices/New Visions award from the Kennedy Center. Follow him at @kevincoval

C. Russell Price is an Appalachian genderqueer punk performance poet who lives in Chicago. Their work has been featured in Assaracus, Court Green, MiPoesias, Nimrod International, voicemail poems, and elsewhere. They hold a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Northwestern University (where Price currently teaches poetry writing). Their chapbook Tonight, We Fuck the Trailer Park Out of Each Other will be released in June by Sibling Rivalry Press. Price works with the literary journal The Offing (a channel of the LA Review of Books) and performs across Chicago.

Marty McConnell lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she coaches individuals and groups toward building thriving, sustainable lives and organizations. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her work has recently appeared in Best American Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, Gulf Coast, and the Indiana Review. Her first full-length collection, wine for a shotgun, received the Silver Medal in the Independent Publishers Awards, and was a finalist for both the Audre Lorde Award (Publishing Triangle) and the Lambda Literary Awards. For more information, visit

Bill Savage is Associate Professor of Instruction in the English Department at Northwestern University, and also teaches at the Newberry Library. Savage teaches the literatures of the Lost and Beat Generations, as well as Chicago writers and urban studies, especially vernacular architecture, and the deeper meanings of hot dog stands and saloons. He regularly reviews books for the Chicago Tribune, and performs in live lit venues around town from Paper Machete to the Frunchroom. His next major publication is an annotated edition of George Ade’s 1931 anti-Prohibition polemic, The Old-Time Saloon: Not Wet, Not Dry—Just History (forthcoming in Fall 2016 from the University of Chicago Press).

The Point is a print and digital magazine of philosophical writing that embodies two distinct but complementary convictions: on the one hand, that humanistic thinking has relevance for contemporary life; on the other, that our lives are full of experiences worth thinking about. The Point adheres to no specific political or social agenda; instead, we ask our readers to participate in a dialogue between diverse intellectual traditions, personalities and points of view. The goal is a society where the examined life is not an abstract ideal but an everyday practice. For more information, visit

Image: Jessie Young, from the May 2015 Cultural Conversation on Dance + Dramaturgy, 2015