L-vis Lives!

Racemusic Poems

FROM THE POET the Chicago Tribune calls “the voice of the new Chicago,” comes L-vis Lives!, a bold new collection of poetry and prose exploring the collision of race, art, and appropriation in American culture.

L-vis is an imagined persona, a pastiche of artists who have used and misused Black music. In Kevin Coval's poems, L-vis' story is equal parts autobiography, and forgotten and re-imagined history. We see shades of Elvis Presley, the Beastie Boys, and Eminem, and meet some of history's more obscure “whiteboy” heroes and anti-heroes: legendary breakdancers, political activists, and music impresarios.

A story of both artistic theft and radical invention, L-vis Lives! is a poetic novella on the dynamic intersection of race and culture in America today.

from hero to most
i am a hero
to most. the great hope
of something other.
a complex back-story.
something other than
the business of my father.
bland’s antonym.
jim crow’s black sheep.
the forgotten son
left to rise in the darkness
among the dis
carded in the wild
of working class, single
mother hoods.

A FREE DOWNLOAD of select poems, matched with beats by Coolout Chris, can be heard here: http://bit.ly/oXSIxZ

About the author

KEVIN COVAL is the author of numerous poetry collections and chapbooks, including the American Library Association Book-of-the-Year finalist Slingshots: A Hip-Hop Poetica and most recently, L-vis Lives! Racemusic Poems, described as a “stunning, and very personal, piece of literary work that should be required reading in every high school in America” by Impose magazine.

In his early twenties, Coval founded “Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival,” now one of the largest youth gatherings on the planet, recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name. Coval currently serves as Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, the non-profit home of Louder Than a Bomb, and numerous other youth writing and hip hop programs. He is a native of Chicago and teaches at the School of the Art Institute and is a frequent contributor to WBEZ: Chicago Public Radio. His next work is Schtick: Jewish Assimilation and Its Discontents, forthcoming from Haymarket Books in April 2013. Coval can be reached at kc@kevincoval.com. New poems and event notices can be found at www.newschoolpoetics.com and www.facebook.com/kevincoval.

Video

The Crossover video, L-vis Lives! book trailer by Brett Nieman

Reviews

"This book is bold, brave and morally messy – twelve rounds of knock-down, drag-out shadowboxing against a shapeshifter. The dark humor, intellectual fervor, and emotional rigor Coval brings to bear animates these pieces, turns caricatures to characters, implicates us all. It's about time."
—Adam Mansbach, author, Go the F**k to Sleep

"A radically candid collection...daring, historically grounded, and socially cathartic poems... Coval’s air-clearing honesty about violent and insidious racism and authenticity and creativity is blazing and liberating."
—Donna Seaman, for American Library Association's Booklist magazine

"As insane as it may seem, much writing about Hip-Hop, especially about White kids and Hip-Hop, eschews the discussion of race or racism. L-vis Lives! is a book of poetry that honestly, beautifully, and emotionally illustrates the contours of that discussion. And it reads like heavily syruped pancakes."
—Boots Riley

“This book reminds me the if anyone can save this world it will be the artists and poets. It is through their efforts that we really understand things, much more than just by knowing the facts. Through art and poetry we can understand other realities and experience them through all our senses. This book explores the complex meanings and motivations of cultural appropriation of black culture by white youth in America. Like many “whiteboys” who have felt the aesthetic power of black culture, hip hop being the most recent form, Kevin Coval has followed his desire and admiration to emulate the creators of the genre without losing himself. By loving and honoring his idols, and studying hip hop culture and the context from which it emerged, he can imagine himself walking in another’s shoes. And by acutely observing himself and his own responses, and those of other artists who have crossed over, he has been able to analyze the American racial dilemma more deeply than most and to see what a country in denial refuses to see, that white supremacy is alive and well in America... Perhaps only through writing as honest and lucid as this, through art as perceptive, can we ever come to terms with our history.”
—Henry Chalfant, producer, Style Wars, and photographer

"Kevin Coval brings artistic taboo to the light in his new book L-vis Lives! His courage and fragility shows why he's one of Chicago's most talented writers."
—Rhymefest

"The figure of the White Boy at the center of L-vis Lives! is a beast of line-beat-breaks, an ambitious and naive thief, equally loved and dissed in his unattainable odyssey for black cultural props. Kevin Coval rips the black skin off of hip Whiteness. Part Norman Mailer's White Negro (“urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts”) and part social aesthetic-activist (but branded a terrorist) determined to continue the Unfinished, Collected Works of John Brown. Real or imagined, as a poet, this White Boy operates in a complex, Contemporary Confessional mode which means he is a snitch, one who straddles the line between escapism and cultural betrayal, a poet who tells bravely and honestly on the self even as he is being haunted by the inheritance of the swinging hips of a legend. Kevin Coval may not have wanted to but he has proven, at a time when many poets use metaphor and restraint to tiptoe around the tough issues of identity and borrowed race, that most L-vises (especially the ones falsely hardened by their own often rejected love of Hip Hop) have Souls."
—Thomas Sayers Ellis, author, Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems

Kevin Coval’s L-vis Lives! is an unstinting excavation of race and culture, art and ownership. It offers poetic affirmation of Ralph Ellison’s signal insight, made forty years ago, that “whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black.” Though some, either out of optimism or of ignorance, have dubbed our nation ‘post-racial,’ Coval reminds us that America is a country in which race is always receding from but ever returning to the center of our consciousness. With poignancy, humor, raw insight, and no small amount of soul, Coval has fashioned a poetry for the present. His voice demands our attention.
—Adam Bradley, co-editor, The Anthology of Rap

“This is a relentless book, brave and uncomfortable. Nothing like it has ever been written. No one really talks about these white men of color. No one considers their origins or the source of their craving. No one has bothered to label this pursuit of Blackness a meaningful tribute or a persistent dysfunction. L-vis Lives! is a cultural touchstone, a book that will easily move into a space that’s been waiting for much too long.”
—Patricia Smith, author, Blood Dazzler, finalist for the National Book Award

"I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is ready for a thoughtful and brave discussion of race in America today. On a side note...Nobody I can think of in poetry today can pull off a slant rhyme like Coval and deftly tie your tongue into a knot around a story that rattles with what it means to be human. When you pick up this book, prepare to be schooled and delighted by Coval's wordplay and to be challenged by his stories to think critically about your own position of power (or lack there of) in society."
—Muzzle magazine

"A stunning, and very personal, piece of literary work that should be required reading in every high school in America.... This little book is a hammer to beat down the wall between the one and the other. It’s also a compelling confession, and a living text of alienation born of the schizophrenic American cultural mind."
—Impose magazine

“Kevin Coval, Chicago bard, inspired teacher, and Pied Piper of poetry to a generation of hip-hop urban guerrillas, does with L-vis Lives! what good art demands: I was in orbit.”
—Bill Ayers, author, Fugitive Days

“Kevin Coval's poetic novella teaches us the traps of life, allowing us to love our reflections, filling us with the joy to live, to struggle for life. The world is ours.”
—Vijay Prishad, author, The Darker Nations

"Tough and smart, real and surreal, aching and funny, in-the-tradition and startlingly original, the trials of L-Vis show us the challenges of giving up on whiteness--a process at once monumentally hard, too easy, and absolutely necessary."
—David Roediger, author, How Race Survived U.S. History

Praise for Kevin Coval

“One of my favorite poets.”
—Mos Def

"Kevin Coval is a new, glowing voice in the world of literature."
—Studs Terkel

"A prophet…a tour-de-force…he can soothe and scathe, hurt and heal, in the course of a single poem."
—Providence Journal

"Coval echoes Ginsberg in his spiritual revolt and longing for multicultural transcendance. Funny and empathic…his well-stocked poems contain earth and spirit, body and soul."
—Booklist

"Coval’s greatest strength is his rhythmic, beautiful prose and his willingness to speak truth to power, no matter what the personal cost."
—URB

"A concious Jewish phenomenon…[Coval’s] work speaks to the Jewish relationship to the American color line."
—Jew School

Resources