Date of Award

Fall 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

David Luis-Brown

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Matthew Delmont

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Joshua Goode

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

©2019 Anthony Blacksher


This dissertation unpacks the poetry, performances, and the production of Def Poetry Jam to explore how a performative art embodied and confronted racial discourses, including stereotypes and also, addressed the racism, patriotism, and imperialist discourses that circulated after 9/11. Def Poetry Jam contributes to the intellectual capacity of spoken word and performance poetry, and poets as intellectuals, where poets produce and disseminate knowledge, ideas, and data, in the form of narratives, that contribute to critical consciousness. The effectiveness of the series lay in the consistent blurring of entertainment, knowledge, anti-capitalism, and capitalism. This research demonstrates how Def Poetry Jam provided organic intellectuals, through poetry, a space to name the pain of history, demonstrate pleasure amid structural inequality, and to imagine themselves in liberatory ways.

The following questions guided this exploration of Def Poetry Jam: from which poetic traditions did Def Poetry Jam originate and thus represent to television audiences; how did the on-screen representation of performers and poetry contribute to the production of cultural consciousnesses; and finally, how did Def Poetry Jam offer an archive of knowledge about the United States, particularly those experiences of African-Americans and people of color, in the early twenty-first century? Following a content analysis of the three hundred ninety-four performances on the series, supplemented by interviews with talent coordinators as well as poets, this research found Def Poetry Jam, as a commercial project, negotiated cultural resistance within the controlling images of Black bodies and people of color on television.