Young Chicago Authors

Young Chicago Authors

Young Chicago Authors
1180 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642
Phone: 773-486-4331
Fax: 773-486-0326

Focus: Humanities, Literacy

Annual Number Participating: 5,000

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $473,500


“A young woman strides into the pool of light on a bare stage. The lone microphone is her only prop. Before a hushed crowd, she delivers an impassioned poem about the love and pain of helping to raise a disabled brother. When she’s finished, the audience members jump to their feet, cheering, as judges raise cards with winning scores.

That’s a scene from a recent Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Slam, a competition in which teenaged poets receive the kind of adulation usually reserved for athletes or rock stars. “Guys are like, ‘Wow, she’s really smart,’ and girls change their perspective of what a cool boy looks like,” explains C.C. Carter, executive director of Young Chicago Authors (YCA), which sponsors the event. The popularity of poetry is due in part to its similarities with rap, but also to the growing recognition among underserved teens that words can be a powerful tool for telling the truth and demanding change.

Formed nearly 20 years ago by a high school English teacher to engage young people in creative writing, YCA now reaches 5,000 teenagers as part of its mission to promote literacy, self-expression, and confidence among Chicago youth with limited access to the arts.

The poetry slam is the organization’s highest-profile event. But YCA also sponsors an intensive Saturday writing program, holds weekday open mics, publishes a literary magazine, and supports a webzine that explores women’s issues.

Professional writers serve as teachers and mentors in the program, which encourages students to examine social justice issues in some of their assignments. “They’re writing about their parents getting laid off; they’re writing about environmental issues; they’re writing about ‘food deserts’ where they don’t have grocery stores in their neighborhoods,” explains Carter.

Effective expression is the basis for empowerment: “If you can write a good essay or a good speech, and if you can stand up and articulate what you want to say without cussing, people will be more open to listening to you,” Carter points out.

Improved communication skills can also lead to college: Last year, 98 percent of YCA’s Saturday writing program graduates pursued higher education.”

“I see kids who are shy who take the mic for the first time. I see kids who have low-level writing skills finally get their first article published. I see kids who normally wouldn’t ever meet, sitting in groups, coming up with ideas for poems. If Young Chicago Authors were the world, that’s the kind of world that I would like to live in.”

C.C. Carter Executive Director, Young Chicago Authors