The Official Bio
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of six books of poetry (including Dear Future Boyfriend, Hot Teen Slut, Working Class Represent, Oh, Terrible Youth and Everything is Everything) as well as the non-fiction book, Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, which Billy Collins wrote “leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature.”
On the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) podcast Art Works, host Josephine Reed introduced Cristin as being “something of a legend in NYC’s slam poetry scene. She is lively, thoughtful and approachable-looking to engage the audience with her work and deeply committed to the community that art (in general) and slam poetry (in particular) can create.”
Cristin’s most recent awards include being named the ArtsEdge Writer-In-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania (2010-2011); a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry (2011); and the Amy Clampitt Residency (2013).
Her sixth book of poetry, The Year of No Mistakes (Write Bloody Publishing), came out this year to rave reviews; and her second non-fiction book, Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, will be released by Gotham Books (Penguin) in late 2014.
In 1998, at the age of nineteen, Cristin co-founded the NYC-Urbana Poetry Slam, a weekly reading series dedicated to showcasing the most innovative voices in poetry. She was the youngest Slam Master ever. Some of the most famous (and most loved) poets in the U.S. have been on team NYC-Urbana, including Sarah Kay, Beau Sia and Taylor Mali; while some of the greatest poets ever have also graced the Urbana stage: Willie Perdomo, Billy Collins, Patricia Smith, Galway Kinnell, Sage Francis, Saul Williams, Rachel McKibbens and many more.
I was lucky enough to meet Cristin in 2003 when she came to Australia to perform at the Sydney Opera House and mentor a group of young Australian writers. She was barely older (and, I think, in some cases younger) than those she was mentoring.
Cristin is a creative, multi-talented universe with many tendrils cascading in all aspects of word art. She is a fierce supernova. She is a poet, non-fiction writer, curator, director, connector, teacher and friend. If she became a superhero I have no doubt her moniker would be The Manifester – she can make anything happen!
Her non-fiction book, Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam (Soft Skull Press, 2008),is essential reading to understand the tone and vibrancy of the wild, heady world of poetry slam in New York. It is impeccably researched, features so many ground-breaking writers and organisers, and is written with Cristin’s distinctive sharpness.
She is extraordinary onstage; she is extraordinary on the page. Her latest book, The Year of No Mistakes, is a lesson in how to craft a must-read poetry collection. It covers all the emotions you want in a book plus a few more you never knew you had. She is the key that will open your heart to poetry. Please read/watch/research her work.
I started falling in love with words…
When I was a kid. My mother was and is a voracious reader, and would read to us all the time… and not just children’s stories. She has read articles she found interesting in the newspaper, tasty passages from non-fiction books she was reading, opinion pieces in magazines that she thought made good points. I learned from an early age that I could very easily meet and learn about people, cultures, times and places beyond the limits of my working-class Philadelphia neighborhood by reading – and, as I grew older, I wanted to join that conversation with my own writing.
Poetry (or spoken word) means…
To me, poetry is a conversation that poets have with the world and with each other. Just like the conversations you have with friends, poetry can take all forms, all lengths, all styles, all tones – but they expose something of a truth about that person… and about yourself in how you receive them.
Other poets I adore are…
As many of my friends are poets, I have a very long list of poets who I adore! But here is a short list of poets whose works have absolutely shaped me; whose home phone numbers I DON’T know (and links to poems I think represent them well):
I love the sounds of…
Accents. Living in New York City over a decade and a half has provided me with so many opportunities to hear how different and beautiful the English languages can sound depending on where you are from – and I’m not just speaking about foreign accents! Regional American accents are something I treasure too. I love how differently words sound – and how differently you as the listener will receive them – depending on the accent.
If I could tell you one thing…
What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do.
— Kurt Vonnegut
I keep this quote pinned above my writing desk, and I find it comforting and guiding.
Alicia Sometimes is an Australian writer, poet, musician, co-host of 3RRR’s Aural Text and a past editor and long-standing contributor of Going Down Swinging (co-editing issues No. 18-No. 23 and contributing to issues No. 14-No. 17 and No. 25-No. 29).