For Make Believers – Storyteller Trusts His Voice To Order His Steps (Part 3)



It started simple enough.

William, looking for a creative outlet on his nights off, approached his friends Dianne and Luther with a proposition: Let him host a Poets Night on Mondays at their jazz bar.

Sure, at the time, no one was really doing it. But the first day of the week was typically slow for them and thanks to theatres being dark on Mondays, Williams knew some of his acting friends would be jonesing for an outlet, too.

“Spices was the perfect location,” he said. “It was right under the El and I knew at least one person who could recite poems all night long.”

That poet was the late, great Maria McCray. A phenomenal spoken word artist and resident mistress of ceremony, she and William forged a path for many local and now internationally known poets, including Malik Yusef, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Chuck Perkins, Marvin Tate, Reggie Gibson and Tyehimba Jess, to get their start and hone their skills on the Spices stage.

The rules were simple: Each poet read a poem, maybe two. And there were no buzzers. No judges. No boos.

“ Spices wasn’t about competition – My heart against your heart. We were speaking for those who couldn’t. Speaking healing, truth, freedom,” said William. “There’s something in our heart…I say, it’s our ancestors on our shoulders and it was important to keep that pure.”

The way Spices achieved that, William added, was by bridging the gap between the young and the old.  Often, poetry royalty, i.e. Gwendolyn Brooks, Kent Foreman and Oscar Brown, Jr., would grace the stage.

The result, this writer can second, was magical. So magical, in fact, that alumnus – writer/director Theodore Witcher – penned the popular 1997 romantic dramedy, Love Jones, which was loosely based on his time there.

“Spices was the prototype for everything. Now you can go to any major city and there’s a poets night,” said William. “Every other spoken word event…from Def Poetry Jam to high school spoken word clubs…All of it, I think, takes its roots from Spices. And I’m proud of that.”



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