Annual programs

The Caroline Rothstein oral poetry program


E.Jin is an adoptee writer who is based in New York. They have received nominations for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets, and their work has appeared or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, The Nashville Review, The Shade Journal, and others. They are a Roots. Wounds. Words., Lambda Literary, and AAWW Margins Fellow.

Wes Matthews is a poet and essayist from the westside of Detroit whose work has appeared in 68to05, Gulf Coast, Muzzle, Beloit, TEDx, PBS News Hour, and elsewhere. He served as the 2018-19 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate and received congressional recognition for "outstanding and invaluable service to the community." Wes graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2023 with a degree in anthropology and religious studies. He is currently working on a Masters of Theological Studies (MTS) degree at Harvard Divinity School.

Imani Davis is a queer, Black, & neurodivergent writer from Brooklyn. A recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, The Mellon Foundation, Lambda Literary, StoryStudio Chicago, and the Stadler Center for Poetry, they’re currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Harvard, where they also earned their M.A. in English. Imani holds a B.A. in English and Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania as well. It was at Penn, & at Kelly Writers House specifically, where they became a proud member of The Excelano Project. Imani’s poetry appears with The Academy of American Poets, Best New Poets, Best of the Net, PBS Newshour's Brief But Spectacular series, The Poetry Foundation’s Ours Poetica, Poet Lore, The Rumpus, Shade Literary Arts, The Offing, Brooklyn Poets, Poetry Daily, Frontier Poetry, Honey Literary, TEDx, ROOKIE magazine, and elsewhere. Notably, they have performed at the Teen Vogue Activism Summit, the Apollo Theater, Brave New Voices, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Nuyorican Poets Café. Imani misses their friend Jamie very much.


José Olivarez is a writer from Calumet City, IL. He is the author of Promises of Gold and Citizen Illegal. Citizen Illegal was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. His poems are featured alongside photographs by Antonio Salazar in the multi-disciplinary poetic work, Por Siempre.


Franny Choi is a queer, Korean-American writer of poems, essays, and more. Her most recent book is Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), a Rumpus and Paris Review staff pick that Lit Hub praised as "a profoundly intelligent work that makes you feel." It was a Nylon Best Book of 2019, was awarded the Elgin Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 2020, and was a finalist for awards from Lambda Literary, Publishing Triangle, and the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Choi is also the author of the chapbook, Death By Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017) and the debut collection, Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2019.) She was a 2019 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow and has also received awards from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and Princeton University's Lewis Center. Her poems have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She co-hosts the poetry podcast VS with Danez Smith.


Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His latest book is A Little Devil In America, releasing in March 2021.


A Bronx, New York native, Roya is a nationally ranked poet/performer/educator/activist. She is the Poet in Residence at Urban Word NYC and works feverishly toward LGBTQIA justice and dismantling white supremacy. Roya’s work has been featured in Poetry Magazine, Flypaper Magazine, Frontier Poetry, the Village Voice, Nylon Magazine, Huffington Post, Button Poetry, Def Jam’s All Def Digital, Lexus Verses and Flow,NBC, BET and The BreakBeat Poets Vol 2: Black Girl Magic (Haymarket 2018).In Spring 2020, MCD × FSG Originals will be publishing Roya Marsh’s dayliGht, a debut collection of experimental poetry exploring themes of sexuality, Blackness, and the prematurity of Black femme death—all through an intersectional feminist lens with a focus on the resilience of the Black woman.

February 26, 2019: KIRWYN SUTHERLAND

Kirwyn Sutherland is a Clinical Research Professional and poet who makes poems centering the black experience in America. He is a Watering Hole fellow and has attended workshops/residencies at Cave Canem, Winter Tangerine, Poets House, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, and Pearlstein Art Gallery at Drexel University. Kirwyn's work has been published in American Poetry Review, Blueshift Journal, APIARY Magazine, MadHouse Magazine, Drunkinamidnightchoir, and The Wanderer. Kirwyn is currently serving as Editor of Lists/Book Reviewer for WusGood magazine and previously served as poetry editor for APIARY Magazine. Kirwyn's Chapbook Jump Ship is forthcoming February 2019 on Thread Makes Blanket Press.


Gabriel Ramirez is a writer, poet, playwright, educator, and activist. He is the 2012 Knicks Poetry Slam Champion and a member of the 2012 Urban Word NYC slam team. Featured in an off-broadway production of Black Ink he debuted Sankofa a one-man show he wrote and acted in himself, collaborating with award winning choreographer and director, Nicco Annan. Gabriel has performed on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre, United Nations, New York Live Arts, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theatre and other venues & universities around the nation. He has also been featured in the Huffington Post, Vibe Magazine, Blavity, Upworthy and at a TEDxYouth Conference. Gabriel ranked 2nd in New York City in Youth Slam and won the 2013 National Poetry Youth Slam Championship in Boston and has gone on to represent New York City at the National Poetry Slam festival on teams ranking top 10 in 2014 and 2015.

October 25, 2016: Paradigm Shifting: Edwin Torres and Will Alexander in Conversation

Will Alexander is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, aphorist, visual artist, and pianist. Writing in various genres he is approaching his 30th title. He is a Whiting Fellow, a California Arts Counsel Fellow, a PEN Oakland Award winner, and an American Book Award winner. In 2016 he received the Jackson Prize for poetry.

Edwin Torres is a 2016-2017 Poetry and Poetics Fellow at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Ameriscopia (University of Arizona Press), Yes Thing No Thing (Roof Books), and The PoPedology of an Ambient Language (Atelos Books). A self-proclaimed ‘lingualisualist’ rooted in the languages of sight and sound, he has received fellowships from NYFA, The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art, The DIA Arts Foundation and The Poetry Fund, among others. Anthologies include: Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing, Post-Modern American Poetry Vol. 2, Kindergarde: Avant Garde Poems, Plays and Songs For Children and Aloud; Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café. Most recently, he's created a series of site-specific text works called "Palympslips" which will be exhibited Oct. 7-Nov. 6 at The Drawing Center in New York as part of a two-year artist residency.

October 1, 2015: BreakBeat Poets: Qurayash Ali Lansana and José Olivarez

The BreakBeat Poets features 78 poets, born somewhere between 1961-1999, All-City and Coast-to-Coast, who are creating the next and now movement(s) in American letters. This is the first poetry anthology by and for the Hip-Hop generation. It is for people who love Hip-Hop, for fans of the culture, for people who've never read a poem, for people who thought poems were only something done by dead white dudes who got lost in a forest, and for poetry heads. This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for.

February 19, 2015: Language Matters

There are over 6000 languages remaining in the world. We lose one every two weeks. Hundreds will be lost within the next generation. By the end of this century, half of the world’s languages will have vanished. In January 2015, Language Matters airs on PBS, a two hour documentary that asks: What do we lose when a language dies? What does it take to save a language? Language Matters was filmed around the world: on a remote island off the coast of Australia, where 400 Aboriginal people speak 10 different languages, all at risk; in Wales, where Welsh, once in danger, is today making a comeback; and in Hawaii, where Hawaiians are fighting to save their native tongue. “Most people know that we are losing species,” says Bob Holman, a poet widely known for his expertise in oral traditions. “Ask schoolchildren, and they’ll know about the panda or the orchid – they’ll have done a project on it. But ask someone if they know that languages all over the world are dying, maybe one in ten might.”

February 19, 2014: Hip Hop Speakeasy

Do you love hip hop? Are you interested in the intersection of music and spoken word? This special hip hop remix of our Speakeasy Open Mic night featured special guest Jonathan Iwry (C’14) and other students showing off their rhymes and rhythms, along with regular open mic night readings.

October 3, 2012: Caroline Rothstein

Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer, and eating disorder recovery advocate, who specializes in spoken word poetry, theater, creative nonfiction, journalism, and performance art. She has performed and facilitated workshops at poetry venues, theaters, colleges, universities, schools, and organizations around the United States for more than a decade. A longtime activist for eating disorder recovery, she hosts the widely viewed YouTube video-blog "Body Empowerment," sharing her own recovery story as a means to promote positive body image worldwide. Since 2000, she has served as a Resource Person for the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the NORMAL nonprofit organization. Her award-winning one-woman play "faith" about her experience with and recovery from an eating disorder debuted as part of Culture Project's Women Center Stage 2012 Festival, and received Outstanding Overall Production of a Solo Show in the 2012 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

Caroline was a member of the 2010 Nuyorican Poets Cafe slam team, which placed second at Poetry Slam Incorporated's National Poetry Slam 2010. A former member of and director for The Excelano Project, a nationally-acclaimed spoken word poetry organization at the University of Pennsylvania, she was the 2004 and 2006 UPenn Grand Slam Champion, a five-time College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational finalist, and helped coach the UPenn slam team to CUPSI championships in 2007 and 2009. Upon graduating in 2006, Caroline was honored for her work with an event in her name at the Kelly Writers House called "The Caroline Rothstein Annual Oral Poetry Event." As a poet and journalist, Caroline has been published in various literary journals, anthologies, and publications, and self-published three books of poetry: After Leo Tolstoy 2011), This Book Wrote Itself (2009), and What I Learned in College (2006). She has a B.A. in classical studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

March 21, 2012: We All Feel Like Spoken Word

April 9, 2011: A Celebration of the Blacktop

Join us for a celebration of The Blacktop—an online magazine for Philadelphia youth (of all ages) run by Writers House staffer (and Penn sophomore) Allyson Even. The event will feature performances by students published in the magazine.

December 1, 2009: Ursula Rucker

Ursula Rucker, Philadelphia native and lyrical poet, joined us for the fourth annual Caroline Rothstein Oral Poetry Event. Rucker's performance entailed a multitude of sung and spoken poetry, with anecdotes in between to highlight the themes of the poems, many of which contained a rebellious voice against those who ignore the impoverished and the unfortunate. Rucker's confidence in her ideas came out when trying to recall a long forgotten poem, as she laughingly told the audience to "talk amongst yourselves for a second." After a minute of remembrance, Rucker proceeded to recount her poem as if she had been preparing to perform it from the very beginning. Indeed, Rucker's passion for her poetry showed especially at the end of her performance, when she emphasized with the same intensity that she reads with that what she does "ain't for the money.. it's so much bigger than that."

October 28, 2008: Tracie Morris and Band

with Marvin Sewell and Val Jeanty

Tracie MorrisCaroline Rothstein and Tracie Morris

April 21, 2008: Words in Your Face

A guided tour through twenty years of the New York City Poetry Slam

For the second annual Caroline Rothstein Oral Poetry Event, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz and four fellow New York City Slam poets – Shappy Seasholtz, Edward Garcia, Chad Anderson, and Nicole Homer – took us through the New York City Poetry Slam movement by recounting its twenty year history and sharing some of their own poems that have seen the stage throughout the three waves of the movement. While the competitive almost-sport of the poetry slam has been deemed “the death of Art” by renowned critic Harold Bloom, Aptowicz and her fellow poets showed us that slam poetry has the power to validate the stories of young people, bring them back into the poetry scene, and most importantly, help them understand the power of words.

February 1, 2007: Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali, an acclaimed spoken word artist and teacher, was the first featured poet in the annual Caroline Rothstein Oral Poetry Program. Mali started by reading poems that ranged from intriguing yet funny observations about the loss of Pluto as a planet to somber inner struggles reflecting on his first wife’s depression and suicide. Prompted by Rothstein’s introductory statement that “it is essential to watch a poet spit a piece about education and language, because without education and language there is no world to change,” Mali spoke directly about the importance of teachers and education by way of a personal project—a goal to convert 1000 people into teachers through his “poetry, and perseverance, and passion for teaching.”