Poetry slammer to perform in MCLA Gallery 51


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Poetry slammer Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo will be the featured performer at this year's MCLA Presents! Sekou Sundiata Evening of Poetry and the Spoken Word on Wednesday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m. in MCLA Gallery 51.

Okoawo is one of the most sought-after poetry slammers today, according to Jonathan Secor, MCLA director of special programs. She is a recipient of the 2008 National Performance Network/NCCC Artist of Color Residency Award and a two-time National Poetry Slam Individual Finalist. Okoawo was asked to compose and perform for Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, and was commissioned by Discovery Channel for their 2008 brand campaign. 

"After presenting Iyeoka in New York City last year, I knew that one way or another I had to get her up to the Berkshires," Secor said. "Iyeoka is a huge fan Sekou's work, and so for her to headline our annual Sekou Sundiata night of Spoken Word and Poetry makes perfect sense."

Okoawo believes that everyone can be a poet.

 "I know that's a bold statement to make, but I've interacted with way too many adults and youth to know that there's so many closet poets," she said. "All they need is an opportunity to shine. In my shows, I give everyone an opportunity to express themselves. Sometimes, I invite people to sing with me as well. People take the opportunity and it's really empowering for me to watch an audience transform like that."

Poetry slamming, Okoawo said, "drives you to reach back to something that you can really connect to so you can give the audience and yourself the experience that's warranted for the piece. That's one of the most amazing things to experience."

According to, "One listen to the poetess Iyeoka will capture your spirit and won't let it go until her lyrics are done encircling the rhythm of your soul." And, National Poetry Slam wrote that Okoawo offers a "refreshing return to the essence of good spoken word poetry."

Born and raised in the heart of Boston by Nigerian parents, Okoawo said she learned from an early age the value of education and the poison of poverty, as well as the meaning of words like hope and change.

Also a singer/songwriter, her newest single "The Yellow Brick Road Song," produced by composer David Franz, recently was featured in the third episode of HBO's newest series "How to Make it in America."

Okoawo's MCLA Gallery 51 performance will be a combination of poetry and music. The lead singer of The Rock by Funk Tribe, she will be joined by a member of that band, composer and multi-instrumentalist Akili Jamal Haynes. Haynes is a member of the woodwinds and brass faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

This MCLA Presents! event is in honor of Sekou Sundiata, an internationally known poet who wrote for print, performance, music and theater. Sundiata also was an educator and an artist-activist. He was featured in the Bill Moyers' PBS series on poetry, "The Language of Life," and as part of Russell Simmons' "Def Poetry Jam" on HBO.

Sundiata wrote and performed in the highly acclaimed performance theater work "The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop," which toured nationally and received three AUDELCO Awards and a BESSIE Award.  He released two major recordings, the Grammy-nominated "The Blue Oneness of Dreams," and its successor, "longstoryshort." He toured internationally with his band; in 2001, they performed in 23 cities in the United States and Canada as part of Ani DiFranco's "Rhythm and News Tour."

Tickets are $12 for general admission, $8 for MCLA faculty and staff, and free to MCLA students and members of MCLA Presents! For tickets, call (413) 662-5204. For general information, call (413) 664-8718.