Poetry is more than just a gateway drug for music. In Chicago, it has its own storied history, complete with legendary writers, eras and iconic works.

The foundation is made up of giants such as Gwendolyn Brooks, who created a legacy for herself as the quintessential Chicago poet during the city’s Black Renaissance Literary Movement from the 1930s through the 1960s. Others from that era include authors Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Arna Bontemps and Lorraine Hansberry.

Since then, Chicago’s poetic ecosystem has grown exponentially to include its own culture, subgenres, and internationally recognized contemporaries.

Nate Marshall and Eve Ewing are carriers of the proverbial torch for Chicago’s poetry scene, while Jamila Woods, Saba, and Chance the Rapper have all transitioned from their poetic beginnings into successful music careers.

They are all students of Chicago’s network of creative incubators, which include arts education organizations and programs —such as YouMedia, Young Chicago Authors and Little Black Pearl — that mold curious kids looking for after-school activities into communities of working artists. These spaces help birth the Black creatives who parlay mystifying open mic performances into full-fledged careers working with Chicago-based publishers such as Haymarket and Third World Press. 

With that being said, there are plenty of poets and spoken-word artists in the city who haven’t reached the level of ubiquity enjoyed by those aforementioned artists, but create work that is just as impactful, and entertaining.

Chima “Naira” Ikoro

Chima has garnered a reputation for both her work as an artist and as an activist. As an activist, she is one-fourth of the organizing collective Blck Rising, and has been on the frontlines of the movement for Black liberation at actions including the #BreakThePiggyBank protest. 

As an artist, her poetry starts and ends with her own real-life story, but manages to provide powerful insight into the grander realities of society at large, such as the poem “See you next Thanksgiving,” where her parents’ fear of losing their child to racist violence is characterized as an unwelcome holiday dinner guest.

Darius Parker

If someone were to ask, “What’s slam poetry?” I would pull up Google and search “Darius Parker poetry.” Parker is a poet, activist, and alum of Kuumba Lynx, a youth arts non-profit organization based in Uptown. The Kuumba Lynx affiliation carries its own weight among Chicago creatives, but Parker’s performances stand out even among such a talented team. His emphatic delivery, and room-filling energy and figure — the man is a healthy 6′ 4″— make his poetry uniquely rousing.


Have you ever felt like someone’s word picked you up and held you like a baby? If your answer is no, go ahead and click on this link, watch a couple of videos, then come back. If your answer is yes, did you see Kwyn Riley live or online? Either way, Kwyn’s words have the ability to comfort while maintaining their inherent gravity as she turns weighty subjects including heartbreak, misogynoir and infant loss into beautiful, empathic glimpses into her soul. 

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.