The Unspoken Word offers open mics, poetry slams, workshops, and community engagement events. We are dedicated to building community through the poetic arts and using venues to provide a space for diverse voices. Through poetry, we hope to not only critique existing structures of power but consolidate communal resources for positive social change. We hope to make an impact on our city and our culture. We seek to create avenues for performance, representation, and publication for voices too often forgotten by mainstream literary institutions. We pair emerging and seasoned writers in workshop settings as well as cooperative writing groups and in doing so provide one another with the encouragement and faculty to produce challenging, urgent poetry.
The poets involved have been involved in countless community arts and activism events including Spoleto Arts Festival, Jailbreak! Arts Festival, the Charleston Arts Festival, Women’s March—Charleston, ChART Festival, OPEN Arts Expo, TriCounty Literary Celebration, Decatur Book Festival, Southern Fried Poetry Festival, SlamMadness Poetry Festival…
They have been featured with PBS, NPR, The Post and Courier, Charleston City Paper, Charleston Art Mag, Aiken Standard, etc.
As an organization, we have worked alongside the Charleston Music Hall to produce Word Perfect (2014) and the MUSC Alliance for Equality to produce Speak Up: Poetry and Dialogue on Social Justice (2016).
The Unspoken Word began as a germ of an idea when AJ Johnson (Khalil Ali) and Derek Berry sat down to talk about how to create a poetry event that could bring different sects of the Charleston poetry scene together.
They began hosting open mic nights at King Dusko (RIP) on King Street, where a diverse audience arrived every two weeks to absorb and share poetry. Early events included Ode to Hip Hop, Confessions Night, and Rhymes and Lovers. In March 2013, they held their first Holy City Slam at the College of Charleston Stern Center Ballroom.
Khalil and Derek noticed something different about their poetry events. These were no polite events, at which stifled voices mumbled poetry from behind pages. The poetry was loud and energetic, striking at something alive, pulsing. The hosts encouraged a loose environment, in which shouting out encouragements and snapping one’s fingers were encouraged. They sought to create a democratic space for poetry where readers were confident to share their work—inspiring the motto Leave No Word Unspoken. Here, in this crowded, noisy room full of tipsy artists, poetry became something entirely new—fun!
After seven months, AJ Johnson left for Atlanta, GA to pursue his career, and Unspoken Word regular Matthew Foley stepped into a leadership role. Foley had been hosting an open mic in West Ashley’s Avondale neighborhood called Poetry Night @ 827. Marcus Amaker, longtime poet-graphic-designer-beat-maker-musician-extraordinaire became more and more involved, collaborating with Unspoken via Charleston Poets. In summer 2014, Unspoken Word regulars and poets from around the city collaborated for the Word Perfect Poetry Show at the Charleston Music Hall.
In 2015, King Dusko closed, prompting The Unspoken Word to move to a new venue. It found two new homes in Elliotborough MiniBar and Pure Theater, where it held open mics and poetry slams respectively. Throughout 2016, The Unspoken Word expanded to various other venues such as Harold’s Cabin and Eclectic Café. Local poets began also to take part in Typewriter Poetry sessions on Saturday mornings at the Charleston Farmer’s Market.
In 2018, The Unspoken Word began co-hosting Speak Easy, a community open mic in North Charleston, SC.
The organization hopes to continue bringing poetry to the community for many years.