“Louder Than A Bomb” Youth Poetry Festival Starts in March

"Louder than a Bomb," the largest youth poetry festival in the world.

Photo: Mercedes Zapata

Craving more poetry by young people that stir a soul awakening like that of Amanda Gorman? Young Chicago Authors delivers with “Louder than a Bomb,” the largest youth poetry festival in the world.

It celebrates its 21st year virtually March 13 through April 24, 2021, on the heels of our country’s new appreciation and thirst for the power of poetry and spoken word performance after the 2021 inauguration.

Excerpts of the poetry of these young Black poets and information about this poetry festival can be heard here, and here.

Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) is an annual highly-anticipated event that has evolved into a phenomenon and hosts more than 500 youth poets for five weeks of Olympic-style poetry bouts, workshops, and special events. Students represent schools and community groups all throughout the Chicago area. Original solo and group poems perform in a tournament-style competition. LTAB creates a safe space for young people to articulate their authentic perspectives, cultivate artistic development, embolden self-expression and instills a dedication to the craft, while elevating voices who might not otherwise be heard.

LTAB alumni include some of the most compelling artists shaping today, including Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper, Jamila Woods, Mick Jenkins, Nate Marshall, Noname, Ric Wilson and Saba.

“Poetry in its best lived practice is a radically democratic form, and really believes in the notion that regardless of who you are and where you come from, you have something to say,” said Kevin Coval, a renowned poet, Young Chicago Authors Artistic Director and LTAB founder.

Coval continued “The inauguration was emblematic of a larger cultural movement that is about ensuring many voices are heard. Art and poetry in particular can act as a bridge and invitation into one another’s lives, so that we might learn about one another.”

This year’s dual theme is Rooted & Radical, encouraging the rising generation to look back, in order to move forward, with a clear picture of the future that they collectively plan to create. Young Chicago Authors, the largest, most vibrant youth literary community in Chicago, invites students to serve as judges for the first time this year. All poetry in the festival will be showcased through pre-recorded videos submitted by the poets. The performances will stream the semi-finals April 9-10, and team finals April 24 at 6PM CT at YouTube Live and Young Chicago Author’s website for free public viewing.

Celebratory auxiliary events this year include “Louder Than A Bomba – A Celebration of Latinx culture,” “Queeriosity – A Celebration of Queer culture,” “Jordan Slam – A Celebration of Duos + Trios,” “Long Hair Don’t Care – A Celebration of Natural Hair,” “Halal If You Hear Me – A Celebration of Muslim culture,” “Emcee Olympics – A Celebration of Hip Hop culture,” and “House of Hoodwives Podcast – A Celebration of Community Organizing.”

The window to register for LTAB 2021 opens Friday, Feb. 5 and closes Friday, Feb. 26. There is no registration fee this year. Further details and preliminary schedule are available on YCA’s website: youngchicagoauthors.org.


Founded in 2001 by Chicago-based poets Kevin Coval and Anna West, along with a group of educators, Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) is an annual event that creates a space for youth to congregate and express themselves through the writing and performing of spoken word poetry. What started with a handful of teams spitting bars in a basement has grown into more than 120 teams all over the city and the suburbs competing for sold-out audiences. Now cities across the country use the LTAB Chicago model to educate and organize.


For three decades, Young Chicago Authors (YCA) has seen the transformation that occurs when a young person is given the opportunity to tell the world who they are. Shaping their experiences into a poem helps a young person see themselves more fully; sharing those experiences helps others see them more fully, closing the distance between people who are not typically in proximity with one another. Young Chicago Authors seeks to cultivate artistic development, social and emotional learning, and academic success in Chicago’s youth. YCA helps young people from all backgrounds to understand the importance of their own stories and those of others, so that they can pursue the path they choose and work to make their communities more just and equitable.


Kevin Coval is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning poet and author of Everything Must Go: The Life & Death of an American Neighborhood, A People’s History of Chicago & ten other collections and anthologies. He is the Creative Director and founding editor of The BreakBeat Poets imprint on Haymarket Books and serves as Creative Director of the MacArthur Award-winning cultural organization, Young Chicago Authors, where he is the founder of “Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival.” He shared stages with The Migos and Nelson Mandela, and his work has been featured on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” National Public Radio, The New York Times, Source Magazine, CNN and four seasons of HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam.” He hosts “The Cornerstore” podcast on WGN Radio and co-hosts “Same Old New School” with Idris Goodwin on Vocalo, a weekly conversation about the week in hip-hop news and culture.

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