On April 24, 2004, the University of Maryland held its annual open house for the state’s citizens, Maryland Day, and the David C. Driskell Center and MITH co-produced the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Slam, an event designed to bring high school students, university students, and university faculty together to celebrate African-American literary heritage. Supported by grants from the Hechts Company and the Maryland Humanities Council, and by contributions of staff time from Driskell and MITH, the Slam enjoyed an audience of more than 350 (in fact, not all of the attendees could fit into the Driskell Center’s Events Room), and served as the inauguration for the “Spoken Word” workshop with high school students offered in summer 2004 by Corey Roberts, a Driskell Center Fellow and doctoral candidate in Theatre at the University of Maryland.
Building on the highly successful Poetry Slam honoring Langston Hughes and held in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in February 2002 (produced by Driskell & MITH and co-sponsored by Borders), this Slam honored contemporary African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks. As had the previous Slam, the April 24 event pitted local high school poets selected by competitions within their schools against Terp poets. With fond memories of the February 2002 Langston Hughes Poetry Slam, judges David Driskell and music faculty Carmen Balthrop were joined by filmmaker Irvin Kershner for what was an intense battle of words and wits. It was a packed house, as students, their teachers, parents and friends cheered the competitors on. In summer 2004 the poetry slam was followed up with the “Spoken Word” workshop for participants and other high school students, intensive sessions designed to foster students’ abilities to hone poetry for performance.