Carole Muske-Dukes feels like she had no choice but to become a writer, given her childhood in St. Paul, MN. “My mother was from that last generation of Americans who learned poems by heart in school, and she recited everything—Milton, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson—she just spoke poetry as she went about her housework.” Muske-Dukes remembers in particular her mother pushing her on a swing to the lines “How would you like to go up in a swing, / Up in the air so blue?” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “Those moments touched me. In the sense that I was meant to be a poet, I was receptive to it all, and the words stayed with me.” Muske-Dukes is currently the California Poet Laureate.
Azure Antionette had been working a grueling office job when she came home one night to her Montclair, California, apartment and watched an episode of Def Poetry Jam. The spoken-word poet Marty McConnell was giving an electrifying performance that ended with the words, “Do not let this universe regret you.” As Antoinette remembers it: “With that last line my arms were literally in the air meaning, I’m done! It changed my course of thinking: You can’t let the world not know you were here—you’ve got to be impactful. That piece definitely influenced my decision to do spoken word full time.” Antoinette quit her job and called her mother to announce, “I’m going to be a poet! ” She was all passion and no plan, but she started hitting the open mic circuit in earnest, and soon joined a Los Angeles-based non-profit that promotes poetry among teenagers. Antoinette is now a working spoken-word poet and youth literacy advocate.