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This Brooklyn Wordsmith is up For a Grammy

Kevin Powell's poetry album "Grocery Shopping With My Mother," is an ode to his mother and their relationship.
Kevin Powell, activist and author of "Grocery Shopping With My Mother," is nominated for a Grammy award.

While his mother sat nearby reading newspapers, Kevin Powell, a Brooklyn-bred activist, public speaker and author, spent most of his younger days sitting in libraries reading sports books and the classics, from Shakespeare to Edgar Allen Poe.

As a young Black boy, Powell said he hadn’t seen many successful writers of color, so his dream of becoming a writer seemed far-fetched. And yet those years sitting in the library next to his single mother led Powell, decades later, to record a poetry-album "Grocery Shopping With My Mother," which has been nominated for Best Spoken Word Poetry Album at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

“I've been writing since I was a child,” Powell told BK Reader. “So, my mother was literally teaching me words at two or three years old and little did I know that would be the foundation for what would be a writing life.” 

The poetry album was adapted from his book, a collection of 32 poems from the time he went back to New Jersey to help his elderly mother shop for groceries.  

The project took eight months for Powell to curate alongside his team of producers, musicians, vocal arrangers and singers. With just nine poems making up the album, Powell makes it clear that his attention to detail is the driving force behind his selections.  

He credits his love for the craft first to a high school teacher that encouraged him to enter an essay contest, as well as to the many artists he discovered at the Nuyorican Cafe in Manhattan and famous poets like Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni.  

Additionally, Powell’s inspiration comes from his deep connection to Brooklyn. Though born in Jersey, he has spent over 30 years in the borough and has written all 16 of his books here. Powell also ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Brooklyn in 2008 and 2010, was a writer for Vibe magazine, and also starred in MTV's "The Real World."

“I've always wanted to do an album. I was scared to go in the studio because I realized I had never been in the studio as a poet,” admitted Powell. “I'd only been in the studio as a music journalist covering other people. And so it was an experience. But what I was clear about is that I don't wanna lose the craft of writing.” 

The melodic collection is an ode to Powell’s mother and their peculiar relationship while she raised him as a single mother. It also touches on his journey to heal from having an absent father, and includes topics like sexism, racism, and his deep love and admiration for his wife.

The title track, "Grocery Shopping With My Mother" follows the moment when Powell’s role switched to a caregiver for his mother. He recalls the raw emotion behind seeing his mother age and the fear of losing her as an adult. 

Listeners are placed in Powell’s shoes as he expresses how his mother “bruised [him] with her words,” but he asks God to spare her life because he “does not know what he would do without her.” 

Powell hopes that listeners see his art as a conversation with their souls.

“My hope is when people come to my art, my approach and my writings is that: does this help me to evolve or transform in some way into something else?” 

The 66th Annual Grammy Awards takes place on February 4. 


Brianna Robles

About the Author: Brianna Robles

Brianna Robles is a Brooklyn, NY based freelance writer and journalist specializing in sharing stories about mental health and spectacular women.
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