About the Team
Ann Arbor, the quintessential college town, is set on the banks of the Huron River in the idyllic rolling hills and valleys of Central Michigan. Despite the town's charming nature, true stories of kidnapping, abandonment and sexual identity surface during writing sessions. Personal, academic and at times humorous, the Ann Arbor team's performance style is more "on the page" and less "slam." However, the writing these poets produce under the guidance of mentor Jeff Kass is both brilliant and nuanced.
The University of Michigan plays a central role in the lives of these teenagers, facilitating an environment that nurtures the arts and self-expression. Coach Jeff Kass is also a part of the world of academia, teaching creative writing at a local high school and leading poetry workshops at The Neutral Zone, a safe space for youth and the location of Ann Arbor's team workshops. The workshops are where these writers formulate ideas about what they want to say to the world outside of their Middle American community. Brave New Voices will provide them with a stage to reach a new audience.
About the Coach
Jeff Kass, a Yale graduate and former champion poet, is a creative writing teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. He describes their community as coursing with the lifeblood of the University of Michigan and cultural renaissance, but also a place where economic disparity can lead to classroom tension. "There are 2,800 students [in Pioneer] and you've got some kids who are coming from a homeless shelter and don't always know where their next meal is going to come from," he says. "And then you've got kids who are driving $60,000 SUVs, they've got two or three cell phones and iPods, and they're wearing $1,000 worth of clothes on their body. These kids are sitting next to each other in the classroom."