Alum James Kass: Visionary of the Year Nominee Takes Poetry to Schools

Monday, January 05, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- When James Kass decided to help young people find their voices through poetry, he figured it would be something he would do for a few years and perhaps 50 San Francisco kids would participate. He was wrong. Monumentally wrong. It’s been 19 years, and a quarter-million kids from around the world participate each year. Kass wasn’t much of a visionary about his own future. But as a graduate student in San Francisco State’s Master of Fine Arts program, he noted the lack of diversity in his writing class. He sensed a universal desire to write, to speak, to share thoughts and ideas, but few places for all young people to do that. “I knew there was a large population who wrote or wanted to write,” he said. “There were just no entry points for them.” He launched Youth Speaks in 1996, a nonprofit that works with teens in schools and community centers to help them write and share their ideas, challenging the status quo through poetry and the spoken word.