March 28, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS (Jan. 17, 2017) — Intermedia Arts is proud to announce the winners of the 2017 VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets. This year’s VERVE recipients were selected by national judges Janani Balasubramanian and Alok Vaid-Menon of DARKMATTER.

The first grant for spoken word poets nationwide, Intermedia Arts’ VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets provide funding for emerging Minnesota spoken word poets who are interested in artistic advancement and leadership in their communities. Through financial assistance, professional development, and recognition within a culturally and socio-economically diverse group of literary artists, this program strengthens and supports Minnesota’s literary community.

Intermedia Arts’ VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets are made possible thanks to generous support from the Jerome Foundation.

2017 VERVE Grant Recipients: 






Fayise Abrahim
Raised in rural Minnesota by a family of East African refugees, factory workers and farmers, Fayise wonders where can refugee hearts rest? Searching for and inheriting oral art forms, she weaves stories of resistance & the land with the laughter of those who tend to the soil. Fayise is a 2016 Emerging Writer with The Given’s Foundation for African American Literature and works as a community organizer.
Chadwick “Niles” Phillips
Born October 20, 1982, Chadwick “Niles” Phillips had to start from the ground up. Experiencing homelessness, constantly moving from shelter to shelter and hotel to hotel, one of the only things which remained constant for him was his deep adoration for music.
After graduating from Michigan State University in 2006, he quickly moved to New York City to pursue his music career in music where he became the Harlem Rap-a-thon winner and an “EOW Challenge” winner; performed at “Hot 97” Summer Jam 07 & 08, at the legendary Apollo, and opened for hip-hop legends such as Raekwon and Talib Kweli; released a single This Time through Koch Records produced by Boola from Roc-a-Fella Records, among many other things.
In 2010, Niles relocated to the Twin Cities where he continues to carry on his legacy. He has taught after-school hip-hop education/artist development workshops and developed his own curriculum entitled “Hip-Hop, History and The Arts” which he has taught at schools including North High School, Loring Alternative High School, FAIR School, Urban Leadership at North Central University, St. Paul Neighborhood House, and District 287 among others.
In 2014, Niles started “The Avant Garde,” a renaissance music, arts and entertainment production company that gives exposure to the top up and coming soul singers, spoken-word poets, hip-hop artists, live instrumentalists, actors/actresses and visual artists in the Twin CIties. “The Avant Garde” recently received an Arts Activities grant from MRAC, and Niles recently won a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council which will enable him to present monthly cultural socials and quarterly concerts.

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Dua Saleh
Dua Saleh is a multidisciplinary performing artist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Saleh hopes to explore art as a means to resist the status quo and as a medium to engage in expressions of personhood and multifaceted identities. Saleh has held positions such as the President of NAACP St. Paul Youth and Collegiate Branch, Youth Civic Engagement Coordinator for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Arts Organizer at the Minnesota Public Research Interest Group, and more.
As an emerging artist, Saleh has been a featured through Black Table Arts, The Almanac, Button Poetry Slam Competitions, Speak Slam Poetry Competitions, Tru Art Speaks, The Amsterdam, First Ave 7th Street Entry, the Cedar Cultural Center, and more. Dua is excited to share space with you through art.

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 Taylor Seaberg
 Taylor Seaberg is a nomadic musician with a passion for jazz stylings and hip hop. Since moving to Minnesota 5 years ago, Taylor has become heavily immersed in the Twin Cities artist scene, embracing both the world of spoken word and the often “underground” music scene. Whether an intimate jazz club, an artist gallery quarter for a hip hop album release, a garage heavy metal band, or a funk and soul Christmas, Taylor has gravitated towards the ever evolving artistry of the Minnesota music/art scene.
“As a dependent of two young military parents, I spent my childhood traveling the world.  I was born in Germany during the second Gulf War. I spent much of my upbringing in the Mediterranean and various European countries. We moved sporadically at the will of the US Armed Services and my stepfather’s deployment, (every 2 years to be exact). Because of this, I never had an opportunity to deeply know or appreciate the historical value of the places I lived beyond their romanticized aesthetics. However, I was heavily immersed in the music world due to my mother who was a mezzo-soprano, opera singer of Kenyan and Indian descent. Taking public speaking courses in high school, I became an orator in speech and debate, gravitating more toward narrative storytelling when I realized it helped in connecting me with my peer group”

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Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay
Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao American poet and playwright. She was born in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1984. Because of her unique background, her work is focused on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production. Sahtu Press calls her a leading voice in Lao speculative theater in recognition of her award-winning play KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS CANNIBALS (Theater Mu) and with her latest play KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS SHAMAN WARRIOR having been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center recently. In 2017 Minnesotans will get to read her poems on coffee sleeves (Coffee House Press) and on busses and trains along the Metro line (Saint Paul Almanac). Keep up with her @REFUGENIUS or
A special congratulations to Queen Niyahbingai and Thandisizwe Jackson whose work, although not selected for a grant award at this time, received Honorable Mentions from our National Judges.
Queen Niyahbingai
Queen Niyahbingai was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. Her style is a fusion of Spoken word, Hip-Hop, and R&B; however she has developed a style of her own. As a young girl she always knew that she wanted to be able to tell her own stories and has done so on countless occasions. She’s currently in the process of releasing her first album in 2017 titled Remember In. She has a soulful manifestation in her presence and is a representation of natural beauty and modesty; which is uncommon to the female artists who package talent and sexploitation as a product for sale. Her artistry is commanding and thought provoking. She has a natural way of being able to connect with people of different cultures and has been a voice for the community performing influential poetic soliloquies for over 15 years. In 2000 she was part of opening doors for the youth hosting an all age open mic with Jemika called “Vibin.” She received accolades for performing in tributes and fundraisers throughout the Twin Cities. Because of her dedication and artistic involvement within the community she was acknowledged with the editor’s choice award. In 2005 her picture made it to the front page of the Minnesota Spokesman for her authoritative poetic performance for the Peace Fundraiser. Over the years she’s performed at places such as The Red Sea, Mall of America, Minnesota Music Café, OM, Honey, The Government Center, Arnellia’s, 7th Street entry, The Elixir Lounge and more. She has been singing and performing with bands the past 7 years; which has enhanced her love and dedication to performing. She has an unwavering devotion for the arts. To add to her list of gifts she composes music and recently finished her profession in digital photography April 2016 with a 3.8 GPA. Knowing her gifts are not her own she is here to touch your heart and mind with stories that she is able to create through her soul visually and lyrically. Her presence and grace grants her the title of Queen.
Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan
Born and raised in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thandisizwe’s artistic expression began at the age of four when she was introduced to Danny Glover’s Aesop’s Fables by her Father, as a reading and computer teaching strategy. It was further developed and nurtured through programs such as American Variety Theatre Company (AVTC), MacPhail’s Music for the Very Young, City Inc. Art’s, and Arts Us Young Story Tellers.
The Fables were used as a tool to teach her how to read and become computer literate, little did her parents know what a huge and lasting impact it would have on their child. Thandisizwe transformed from storyteller to poet while in high school. She became the Minnesota State Champion for Poetry Out Loud twice. Representing her state in Washington D.C and going on to become  top 8 nationally. Proceeding the national competition, Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise was used at the school, regional and state levels as one of her winning pieces. Subsequently that then led to St. Catherine’s University arranging a photo shoot and meet and greet between Ms. Angelou and Thandisizwe. Although she did not win the national title, her experience reciting others’ poems inspired her to fulfill her aspiration of creating and reciting her own words.
Thandisizwe was asked to write and present as poem at her little sister’s funeral which further planted seeds of development. After high school she continued to experiment with writing and reciting spoken word that she had written. It was in 2012 when she performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day People’s Rally, where she had her official debut as a Spoken Word Artist. Thandisizwe prides herself in tackling social justice issues through her work. While entertaining she educates and empowers. She is a firm believer that Spoken Word is didactic.
Jackson-Nisan has used her gifts and talents for joyful occasions as well as sad times. When one of her best friends life was taken due to gang violence, she was asked write and perform a specific piece for the occasion. That year she was also asked to perform at two additional funerals for other young people that had been lost in the struggle. This gave her a greater appreciation for life and challenged her to expand her horizons.
Some of  Thandisizwe’s other performances include but are not limited to Terrance Franklin Wake Up Rally in July of 2013, Gay Pride Festival in July of 2013, Poetry Night on the Beach in Puerto Varta, Mexico in December of 2013, Joe Adams Queen and King Show Case at the Capri in January of 2014, Socialist Alternative National Conference in Seattle in April of 2014, and Ella Baker National Child Policy Training on the campus of Knoxsville University in June of 2014. In 2014 she also had the opportunity of gracing the stage at  Minnesota’s 2014 Juneteenth Celebration, the Green Party National Convention at Macalester College in St. Paul, Dress for Success Going Places Network Graduation in August, and Freedom Schools Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Final summer 2014.
Some of Thandisizwe’s more recent appearances, include presenting at the Annual Ella Baker Trainer Talent Show at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton Tennessee, The Negril Yoga Centers Calming Breakfast in Negril Jamaica, African American Parent Involvement Day Parent Session at Bethune School in Minneapolis, she truly wants to deliver a powerful, educational, and meaningful message to her audience. One of her goals is to keep doing the previous through her interaction with youth and the community.
DARKMATTER is a trans south asian performance art duo comprised of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. Based in New York City, DarkMatter regularly performs to sold-out houses at venues like La MaMa Experimental Theater, the Brooklyn Museum, Nuyorican Poets Café, and the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. DarkMatter was recently part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, the Lincoln Center’s La Casita Festival, and the Queer International Arts Festival. Known for their quirky aesthetic and political panache, DarkMatter has been invited to perform at stages and universities across the world.
Alok Vaid-Menon, they/them, is a nonbinary transfeminine poet and performance artist.
Janani Balasubramanian, they/them, is a writer of speculative fiction.
As Minnesota’s premier multidisciplinary, multicultural arts organization, Intermedia Arts builds understanding among people by catalyzing and inspiring artists to make changes in their lives and communities. We provide creative people of all ages with the opportunities, tools, and support to come together across disciplines, sectors, and boundaries to connect, create, share, collaborate, innovate, think big, and act as catalysts for positive community-driven and community-defined change. We are a nationally recognized leader in empowering artists and community leaders to use arts-based approaches to solve community issues. By stimulating deeper community engagement and providing a platform for the stories and experiences of underrepresented communities locally, nationally, and internationally, we contribute to a stronger, healthier society.
Art. Changes. Everything
Intermedia Arts // 2822 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408 612.871.4444 // [email protected] ///
Intermedia Arts’ VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets are made possible thanks to the generous support of the Jerome Foundation. 

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