» VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets
2017 Grant Recipients

2017 VERVE Grant Recipients

Fayise Abrahim

Raised in rural Minnesota by a family of East African refugees, factory workers and farmers, Fayise wonders where can refugee hearts rest? Searching for and inheriting oral art forms, she weaves stories of resistance & the land with the laughter of those who tend to the soil. Fayise is a 2016 Emerging Writer with The Given’s Foundation for African American Literature and works as a community organizer. 

Chadwick "Niles" Phillips

Born October 20, 1982, Chadwick "Niles" Phillips had to start from the ground up. Experiencing homelessness, constantly moving from shelter to shelter and hotel to hotel, one of the only things which remained constant for him was his deep adoration for music. Something about a melody with a topic that he could relate to kept his attention. He began to gravitate heavily toward Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz and the art of emceeing and spoken word. Artists such as Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Big-L, Andre 3000 and J-Dilla inspired Niles to pursue and refine his gift of writing and sculpting his artistry. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2006, he quickly moved to New York City to pursue his music career in music. 
Within two years of moving to New York City, Niles accomplished the following: Becoming the Harlem Rap-a-thon winner (out of 100 emcees); Being an “EOW Challenge” winner; Performing at “Hot 97” Summer Jam 07 & 08; Performing at the legendary Apollo; opening up for hip-hop legends such as Raekwon and Talib Kweli; Rapping solo on a nationally televised B.E.T commercial for the Barack Obama You(th) Vote commercial; Winning the 2007 Hot 97/Koch Talent Show which enabled him to release a single This Time through Koch Records produced by Boola from Roc-a-Fella Records. Niles also engaged in other forms of art. He had an acting debut on Broadway with his one-man show Niles on Broadway/When The Clock Strikes XII. He also has a deep passion to educate today’s youth. This passion led him to teach artist development workshops in Brooklyn, New York for the classic artist curriculum “The Hip-Hop Project”. He also joined with Chase Bank Manhattan to do freestyle performances at middle schools in the Bronx while educating the youth about financial literacy. In addition, he was a performing artist/youth advisor for the “Hip-Hop Culture Center of Harlem”. 
In 2010, Niles relocated to the Twin-Cities where he continues to carry on his legacy. He has taught an after-school hip-hop education/artist development workshop for Sojourner Truth Academy as well as developed his own curriculum entitled “Hip-Hop, History and The Arts.” He has taught this curriculum at schools such as Watershed High School, North High School, Henry High School, Roosevelt High School, Avalon High School, Loring Alternative High School, M.E.R.C Alternative High School, Longfellow Alternative High School, FAIR School, Anthony Middle School, Urban Arts Academy, Green Central Community Center, High School for Recording Arts, Gordon Parks High School, Urban Leadership at North Central University, 4-H Youth Program (University of Minnesota), St. Paul Neighborhood House and District 287. At Watershed High School, Niles directed a successful show entitled The Youth Performance Series. The show entailed acting, spoken-word poetry and creative drawing displays that were sequenced in a very distinctive, unique and original way. Within “Hip-Hop, History and The Arts,” 2 youth music projects were released. Niles entered a group of youth into the MNSWA Spoken-Word contest and they took first place. He also hosted the longest running open mic in the Twin Cities entitled The Poet’s Groove at The Blue Nile Restaurant and Lounge. He hosted it weekly for its last two and a half years.
In 2014, Niles started “The Avant Garde,” a renaissance music, arts and entertainment production company that gives exposure to the top up and coming soul singers, spoken-word poets, hip-hop artists, live instrumentalists, actors/actresses and visual artists in the Twin CIties. He has presented concerts at the following venues: Bedlam Lowertown, Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Como Dockside Pavillion, The Dakota, The Tangiers and Faces Mears Park. He also directed a theatric musical narrative entitled Expressions of Black Progression where he cast a poet and two singers to play Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Sam Cooke. They first presented it for Ameriprise Financial as a private event, then they showed it in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,000 people at the State Theater. The business has grown very well within the first two years. He recently won a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council for $10,000 which will enable him to present monthly cultural socials and quarterly concerts. Niles has had interview features in the Spokesman Recorder, 89.9 “The Current” Blog, Insight News, CW23, WCCO and  KARE11 News. His company “The Avant Garde” are recent recipients of the Arts Activities grant from MRAC and the VERVE Grant for Spoken Word Poets from Intermedia Arts.

Dua Saleh

Dua Saleh is a multidisciplinary performing artist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Saleh hopes to explore art as a means to resist the status quo and as a medium to engage in expressions of personhood and multifaceted identities. Saleh has held positions such as the President of NAACP St. Paul Youth and Collegiate Branch, Youth Civic Engagement Coordinator for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Arts Organizer at the Minnesota Public Research Interest Group, and more. 
As an emerging artist, Saleh has been a featured through Black Table Arts, The Almanac, Button Poetry Slam Competitions, Speak Slam Poetry Competitions, Tru Art Speaks, The Amsterdam, First Ave 7th Street Entry, the Cedar Cultural Center, and more. Dua is excited to share space with you through art.

Taylor Seaberg

Taylor Seaberg is a nomadic musician with a passion for jazz stylings and hip hop. Since moving to Minnesota 5 years ago, Taylor has become heavily immersed in the Twin Cities artist scene, embracing both the world of spoken word and the often "underground" music scene. Whether an intimate jazz club, an artist gallery quarter for a hip hop album release, a garage heavy metal band, or a funk and soul Christmas, Taylor has gravitated towards the ever evolving artistry of the Minnesota music/art scene. 
"As a dependent of two young military parents, I spent my childhood traveling the world.  I was born in Germany during the second Gulf War. I spent much of my upbringing in the Mediterranean and various European countries. We moved sporadically at the will of the US Armed Services and my stepfather’s deployment, (every 2 years to be exact). Because of this, I never had an opportunity to deeply know or appreciate the historical value of the places I lived beyond their romanticized aesthetics. However, I was heavily immersed in the music world due to my mother who was a mezzo-soprano, opera singer of Kenyan and Indian descent. Taking public speaking courses in high school, I became an orator in speech and debate, gravitating more toward narrative storytelling when I realized it helped in connecting me with my peer group"

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao American poet and playwright. She was born in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1984. Because of her unique background, her work is focused on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production. Sahtu Press calls her a leading voice in Lao speculative theater in recognition of her award-winning play KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS CANNIBALS (Theater Mu) and with her latest play KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS SHAMAN WARRIOR having been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center recently. In 2017 Minnesotans will get to read her poems on coffee sleeves (Coffee House Press) and on busses and trains along the Metro line (Saint Paul Almanac). Keep up with her @REFUGENIUS or SaymoukdaTheRefugenius.com

This program is made possible, in part, thanks to the generous support of the Jerome Foundation.