Monday, February 8, 2016

Monday Muse: Delaware's Twin Poets Laureate

. . . I think we'll be able to put poetry and art in places 
and conversations where it hasn't been in the past. . . .
~ Albert Mills*

This appointment will allow us to continue to create
an environment where it's OK to express your emotions
and your love, your care and concern for another person. . . .
~ Nnamdi Chukwuocha*

In an announcement made December 16, 2015, Delaware's governor named two spoken word artists to the position of state poet: identical twins Nnamdi Chukwuocha ("choo-Quo-cha") and Albert Mills, who are known for their live performances of socially conscious work, including, most famously, "Dreams Are Illegal in the Ghetto" and "Homework for Breakfast".

Together, the co-Poets Laureate, referred to as "The Twin Poets", succeed Dr. JoAnn Balingit, who served from May 14, 2008 through December 1, 2015.

Information about the creation and responsibilities of the position is found in my Monday Muse post about JoAnn Balingit (May 24, 2010).

The brothers envision taking poetry, especially spoken-word performance, into schools, libraries, and community centers; theatres; orphanages and group homes; detention centers, correctional facilities, and work-release programs; military bases and veterans programs, and nonprofit organizations throughout underserved areas of Delaware to promote awareness of poetry and to demonstrate how poetry and the spoken word can be used transformationally—not only to help solve difficult urban problems, especially poverty, drug abuse, and gun violence in African American communities, but also to as a way to empower, help heal, and give support to those in need.

* * * * *
We believe art is a true tool to combat gun violence.
We believe that 100 percent and believe that art
is one of the key things missing in our community.
~ Nnamdi Chukwuocha**

Nnamdi Chukwuocha (Left) and Albert Mills (Right)

Nnamdi Chukwuocha (named Elbert Mills at birth) and Albert Mills, raised in Wilmington, Delaware, in a family of community advocates (their father was a civil rights activist), were taught as children to channel their emotions through written or spoken word, especially as a way to alleviate stress and resolve issues. Later, they began writing stories and poems. The emergence of rap gave them a way to speak and perform their poems, although they declined to accepted offers from within the entertainment industry, deeming the industry antithetical to their desire to be positive change agents and inspiring role models. Both men are Army veterans, married, and fathers. 

The brothers' books include Our Work, Our Words...: Taking the Guns from Our Sons' Hands (iUniverse, 2008).

Used to touring nationally and internationally (they have performed in Ghana, Jamaica, France, Germany, and Ireland, among other countries), the brothers are the subject of the documentary Why I Write (Hearts and Minds Films, 2011). (See trailer below.) They have appeared on HBO's Def Poetry (Def Comedy Jam on YouTube), BET's Lyric Cafe, and NPR's Poetic License programs. Repeatedly lauded and recognized for their community service, they are the recipients of the Village Award (2006) from the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families and a Local Heroes Award from Bank of America (2006). The Twin Poets were State of Delaware Mentors of the Year in 2001.

The entire documentary, Why I Write: The Twin Poets, may be viewed on YouTube. (The documentary also is available on DVD.)

Chukwuocha's and Mills's poem "Home for Breakfast" is to become a children's book. Illustrated by Robyn Phillips-Pendelton, it will be released this year by Mariposa Ranch Press.

The brothers — Mills is a family therapist an community-based social worker and Chukwuocha is a Wilmington City council member and social worker — recently launched Art for Life - Delaware, a community mentoring program that uses art to change lives. They also are the founders of GOALS (Getting Organized Always Leads to Success), a tutoring and mentoring program that teaches children about the importance of self-expression and writing. (A "G.O.A.L.S." poem is found in their book Our Work, Our Words.

Here are several excerpts from The Twin Poets' work:

so many people who call themselves poets are more concerned with
     writing poems
but i am more concerned with making a difference
for me these aren't poems but rather essays of my existence
~ from "essay of my existence"

[. . .] you see these poets here help mend broken homes
and have young boys
writing mommy i appreciate everything you do for me poems
~ from 'these poets"


Photo Credit: Cylinda McCloud-Keal; Courtesy of State Arts Division

All Poetry Excerpts © Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills

* Quoted from News Release from Office of the Governor (See link below.)

** Quoted from Jenna Pizzi Article (See link below.)

Office of the Governor, "Governor Markell Appoints 17th Poets Laureate for the State of Delaware", News Release, December 16, 2015 (Watch the appointment ceremony on video.)

Jenna Pizzi, "Wilmington's Twin Poets Named as State Poets Laureate", The News Journal (DelawareOnline), December 16, 2015 (Video Interview Available)

Layla Garms, "'Twin Poets' Use Rhyme to Change Lives", The Chronicle, October 9, 2013

Stephen Salisbury, "From the Twin Poets, One View of Inner-City Life: The Brothers' Works Mix Rap, Theater, Morality Tale, and Political Tract",, December 5, 2001 (Lines from "Little Shane" are included in the article.)

Nnamdi Chukwuocha Profiles Online: City of Wilmington, "Nnamdi Chukwuocha's Story" on YouTube

The Twin Poets' Poetry Online: "Dreams Are Not Illegal" at Poet Laureate Page (Video); "Why I Write" at National Writing Project; "The Beauty of the Journey", YouTube (Video Recording at Appointment Ceremony); "Inner City Disease" from The Bandana Republic (Anthology) on GoogleBooks

Our Work, Our Words on GoogleBooks

Why I Write: The Twin Poets on FaceBook

The Twin Poets on FaceBook and Twitter

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