City Verses: Amplifying Voices Through Jazz and Poetry

With the support of a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, Rutgers University - Newark MFA and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) have partnered to create City Verses, an intergenerational educational program that celebrates jazz’s rich, historical interaction with poetry and its relationship with the city of Newark and its communities.

Newark played a formative role throughout the 20th century in both nurturing a number of notable jazz figures, including Sarah Vaughn, Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter, and Tyrone Washington, and providing a home for a network of African American-based clubs that were crucial to the development of African American musicians and jazz. Newark has a similarly rich history with poetry, and poetry in relation to jazz, reaching back to these clubs where poets frequently joined jazz musicians on stage, working to enliven their respective forms through collaboration. In fact, one of Newark’s most celebrated poets, Amiri Baraka, wrote Blues People: Negro Music in White America, a seminal work on the contributions of African Americans to jazz, blues, and American culture.

From 2020-2022, current students and alumni of the RU-N MFA program have the opportunity to participate in one of City Verses’s many program initiatives, including conducting a workshop in a New Jersey library branch or teaching as a poet-in-residence in a Newark high school. All positions come with a generous stipend.