Spoken word poet Sarah Kay may only be 23, but she is already a force to be reckoned with.
ISSUE: Spring 2012
To call Sarah Kay eloquent is an understatement. The 23-year-old spoken word poet is an articulate force of nature, blowing audience members away with each enunciated adjective, suspenseful pause and wave of her hand.
Kay, who is of Japanese and Jewish descent, discovered her love for words early on. “Before I knew how to write, I used to follow my mother around the house and yell, ‘Poem!’ until she wrote down my dictation. I think that’s why she taught me how to write early on, so I’d stop making her do it for me,” Kay laughs. One day, when Kay was 14, she found out she had been registered for the New York City Teen Poetry Slam; to this day, Kay has no clue who enrolled her. But the competition led her to New York’s famed Bowery Poetry Club, where she fell in love. “I came back every week even though I was the youngest person there by far. Every thing I saw thrilled me,” she remembers.
Eventually, Kay was persuaded to go onstage herself. “When you’re 14, you’re not told often that adults want to listen to you, and this was so different,” says Kay. Her performances eventually took her out of New York and to HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, the National Poetry Slam, France, South Africa and beyond.
The turning point in Kay’s career came at the 2011 TED Conference, where she mesmerized the audience
with her talk. “I definitely think that my life has divided into pre- and post-TED,” she says.
Though she’s been incredibly successful as a spoken word poet, don’t think that occupation will be Kay’s be-all-end-all. “My great love is writing,” says Kay. “It just so happens that this was the form that I discovered at the right time.” Currently, she’s getting her
master’s in education in order to strengthen her passion project, Project V.O.I.C.E., through which she and partner Phil Kaye teach poetry and self-expression at schools. Kay is also dabbling in other projects, including plays, illustrated books, documentaries, and photography. “I’m always trying to find the best way to tell each story,” she says. And at 23, it looks like Kay’s own story won’t be reaching The End