Photo by Andrew A. Nelles (BA '08)
Photo by Andrew A. Nelles (BA '08)
“I’d never seen myself as an activist until I started doing things with words and poetry,” Linzy admits. “I was like ‘Oh, so that’s activism.’ Poetry helps me understand people more and know where they’re coming from. That’s what they do at Young Chicago Authors: change people.” 

Louder Than a Bomb

The poetry of freshman Essie Linzy.


Standing onstage in front of a quiet audience at Columbia College Chicago’s Ferguson Auditorium, a nervous high school student glances down to briefly collect her thoughts.

She’s casually dressed in a striped hoodie and jeans and sways side to side for a moment, before finding her footing, taking a sharp breath, and launching into the opening lines of her poem, “I Don’t Like Girls.” As the poem picks up speed and reaches its apex, it forces the audience to its feet with screams of adulation.

Taking place at the 2011 Young Chicago Authors’ “Louder Than a Bomb” competition, that electric performance marked the first of many for Essie Linzy, a Chicago-based poet who is now a freshman at Columbia College Chicago studying Creative Writing — Poetry. Since then, this new and rising voice in slam-poetry circles has performed at various events throughout the city, including the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, held in Chicago in April of 2012, with luminaries like the Dalai Lama, actor Sean Penn, and former President Bill Clinton.

At a time in their lives when most students are discovering and developing a creative voice, it’s fair to say that Linzy, who is nineteen, has already found hers. For her, poetry is a verbal weapon she can use to confront issues of sexuality, conformity, and gender. But more than that, Linzy sees poetry as a way to bridge relationships with people, as it does with Young Chicago Author’s “Louder Than a Bomb” initiative, which is the largest youth slam poetry festival in the world.

“We’re trying to get different parts of the city to come together so we can hear each other’s stories,” says Linzy, who is now one of 12 Emerging Artists with Young Chicago Authors. “We can hear what it’s like for the other side, and then try and fix things —try and create a community, ’cause the city is very segregated.”

Linzy learned about Columbia through its affiliation with the “Louder Than a Bomb” festival, which is partially co-hosted by the college. Each year, slam poets share original works over the course of three weeks and advance through different stages of the competition. 

In 2012, Linzy competed against seven hundred others and snagged second place honors at the annual festival, where she performed “Rosie,” a poem of hers that uses the iconic World War II fictional figure Rosie the Riveter to explore contemporary views of femininity and sexual orientation, challenging notions of what it means to be a confident and beautiful modern-day woman.

With a range of material that often speaks to people in the LGBTQ community, Linzy has become an up-and-coming voice in a city that spawned the slam poetry movement close to thirty years ago. “Essie is the nexus of a new hip-hop inspired, page-driven poet—socially engaged and radical,” says Kevin Coval, Artistic Director for Young Chicago Authors.

“I’d never seen myself as an activist until I started doing things with words and poetry,” Linzy admits. “I was like ‘Oh, so that’s activism.’ Poetry helps me understand people more and know where they’re coming from. That’s what they do at Young Chicago Authors: change people.”

Although she is only a freshman, Linzy has big plans for herself and her poetry, including a future chapbook release. Ultimately, though, she has even much bigger goals: “I want to bring people together,” she says. “I know that poetry is a community within itself and it could change so many things. I hope to change things—change the way Chicago looks.”