Haymarket Books
Books for changing the world
L-vis Lives!
Racemusic Poems
L-vis lives in this poetic narrative on the use and misuse of contemporary black culture.
FROM THE POET the Chicago Tribune calls “the new voice of 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 representation of artists who have used and misused Black music. Like so many others who gained fame and fortune from their sampling, L-vis is as much a sincere artist as he is a thief. In Kevin Coval's poems, L-vis' story is equal parts forgotten history, autobiography, and re-imaginings. 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 all of the possibilities and problems of “post-racial” American culture—where Black art is still at times only fully accepted in a white face, and every once in a while an “L-vis” comes along to step in to the void.

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 hero
who transcends
who translates the dis
satisfactions of the plains;
kids of kurt cobain,
method man amphetamine,
the odd Iowan who digs dirt
and lights beyond the pig yard,
spits nebraskan argot,
hero to the heart
land, middle brow(n) america

  • “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

    "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

    "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 Soul."
    —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

    “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

Other books by Kevin Coval

  • A People's History of Chicago

    Named "Best Chicago Poet" by The Chicago Reader, Kevin Coval channels Howard Zinn to celebrate the Windy City's hidden history.
  • This Is Modern Art

    A glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists that asks us to question the true purpose of art.
  • 1989, The Number

    For hip-hop heads 89 was the peak of the Golden Era and the Crack Epidemic.
  • The BreakBeat Poets

    Edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, et al.
    A first-of-its-kind anthology of hip-hop poetica written for and by the people.
  • Schtick

    Poet Kevin Coval offers both tragedy and comedy in this stirring exposition on Jewish assimilation and its discontents.