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The Scarlet & Black

Joshua Bennett, beyond words

By Danielle Williams

Since his last visit, many Grinnellians have become familiar with the name Joshua Bennett.

Bennett is a rising name in spoken-word poetry. Born in Yonkers, New York, Joshua Bennett, now 24, is barely older than his audience here at Grinnell. Bennett is currently pursuing a PhD in English from Princeton University. According to his publicity profile, “He thanks God for his talent and appreciates the opportunity to inspire others.”

Joshua has been featured on the HBO series ‘Russell Simmons presents Brave New Voices.’ He has also recited his works at President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House, The Sundance Film Festival, BBC Radio Oxford and, of course, here at Grinnell.

Grinnellians have Chloe Griffen ’14, All-Campus Events Chair, to thank for Bennett’s return. She’s been a fan since she found out about him last year, when he performed on campus. A lot of his popularity has been gained from his past performances, but even more so from videos of his original poems on YouTube.

Poems similar to two of his most popular works, ‘10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Woman’ and ‘Balaenoptera’, have allowed him to capture the hearts of many women. But, despite the fact that his poems are generally focused around the theme of love, his poems are worded to encompass ideas that spread across a myriad of topics and appeal to all genders.

One connection that can be made between his poems and Grinnellian ideals is the idea of self-governance.

“When you talk about self-gov, you talk about positive relationships amongst all us Grinnellians. He talks about love and relationships in general—learning how to interact with people,” Griffen said. “That correlates directly with self-gov, because self-gov is the most positive way in which we can interact with each other and teach each other to relate together as a community, so his poetry is very relevant to Grinnellians.”

Sara Galenbeck ’13, another major fan since Joshua Bennett’s performance incited her interest at Grinnell last year, described herself as being “super-excited” for his return.

“He made a comment about Bell Hooks [a sociologist] and everybody in the audience seemed to have the background to understand, and he said, ‘I love you guys, you’re a great crowd; I know I’m at a liberal arts school when [the students] can understand a Bell Hooks reference,’” Galenbeck said.

The notion of self-governance is not the only idea that establishes common ground. Griffen and Galenbeck both agree that, as liberal arts students, it is easy for us to relate Bennett’s sayings to our lives.

Griffen was adamant about having Bennett return this year to perform once more because so many people seemed to appreciate spoken-word poetry. Last year, his event elicited a great turnout that packed Herrick Chapel with students and families.

“He touched a lot of people,” Griffen said. “He’s very family-friendly. There aren’t a lot of artists that can appeal to college students and remain family-friendly.”

Griffen had a chance to speak to Bennett’s agent, who assures us that Bennett is just as enthused to be performing as the student body is to have him perform.

Brittany Silver ’14, one of Grinnell’s own spoken-word poets, will be opening for Bennett. Bennett will be performing in Herrick Chapel this Friday, September 28, at 8:00 p.m. No tickets are required for entrance and everyone is encouraged to attend.

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