Spoken-word artist selection is apt in April, amid National Poetry Month and its celebration of the art form

Sarah Kay’s TED2011 performance of her poem “B” earned two standing ovations, more than 11 million views online, and kickstarted her reputation as one of the most vibrant and insightful spoken-word artists and poets of her generation.

Sarah KayJust 22 years old then, Kay has spent the 2010s amassing a resume to cement that reputation: co-founding and co-running Project VOICE, a foundation to spark creativity in youth through spoken-word poetry; performing at the United Nations, Carnegie Hall and in more than 25 countries; and writing poems that touch on issues universal and personal, such as love and identity, that have appeared in such places as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and on designer Uniqlo T-shirts.

Her 2014 collection of her first decade of poetry, No Matter the Wreckage (Write Bloody Publishing), has been chosen as Case Western Reserve University’s 2018 common reading book. Incoming students will receive a copy this summer and will participate in related programming during their inaugural semester at the university.

B (If I Should Have a Daughter) by Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter, instead of mom, she’s going to call me Point B,

because that way she knows that no matter what happens,

at least she can always find her way to me.

And I am going to paint the Solar Systems on the backs of her hands,

so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand’

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face,

wait for you to get back up, just so it can kick you in the stomach

but getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

Read more.

Kay will also discuss and perform poetry as the 2018 Elaine G. Hadden Distinguished Visiting Author and keynote speaker at Fall Convocation, a university tradition that serves as the official opening of the new academic year. The annual event also features an academic procession and the presentation of the Distinguished University Professors.

Convocation is Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 4:45 p.m. in Severance Hall. Ticketing information will be made available this summer, as well as more details about an attendant reception at the Tinkham Veale University Center following the ceremony.

“Discovering poetry can be a transformative experience, awakening people to new insights about language, writing and imagination,” said Timothy Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion, chair of the Department of Religious Studies and also of the common reading selection committee.

“Poetry is an especially powerful means for us to open ourselves to cultural difference and new ways of seeing the world,” he said.

Hailing from New York City, Kay began performing her spoken-word poetry at 14 years old. In 2006, she competed in the first-ever National Poetry Slam, and at 16 years old, was also the youngest competitor in that year’s competition. Her best-selling books of poetry include this year’s All Our Wild Wonder, released in March.

cover of book "No Matter the Wreckage"

All first-year students will receive Kay’s book “No Matter the Wreckage”

“Hosting a poet like Sarah Kay is a good way to engage students who are already interested in poetry, but also to offer students in other disciplines a sense of its crossover appeal,” said Sarah Gridley, a poet and an associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve. “Some of my best poetry students at CWRU are ones who bridge the presumed gap between STEM and humanities modes of thinking.”

Each year since 2002, a common book has served as the basis for programs and discussions for first-year students.

Last year, author Sarah Vowell spoke at Convocation, and her book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States served as the common book selection; in 2016, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See, by Northeast Ohio-native Anthony Doerr, served as the university’s common reader and was discussed in his talk at convocation.