ZORA HOWARD has always been right on time. She was the youngest poet to win the Urban Word NYC Grand Slam finals at the age of 13. Three years ago, at 16, she became the first ever New York City Youth Poet Laureate. And now, as the youngest member of the collective The Strivers Row, the 18 year old joins a group of poets–all her senior–that she’s either mentored or competed against over the years. It’d be easy to say she’s ahead of her time, but really, she’s right on time for every honor she has received. Just before her Lexus Verses and Flow debut, we sat down with Howard and retraced the steps she’s taken on her spoken word journey.
LA: You found spoken word early. At 13 years old. Wow. How did you become involved in the culture?
ZH: Whew, the question of all questions [smiles]. So, I’ve been writing for forever, and another one of my passions was theater, so even before 13, that’s what I was always doing–writing and acting. And I was taking classes back then where I could incorporate my writing and performances. So that’s really how it started for me. I had a friend, who was also my mentor at Urban Word in 2006. She slammed in 2005 for the Urban Word team. I was too young. I was 12. She encouraged me to come back and try out for the team. I wasn’t too sure about it, but she was adamant.
She pulled me out the next year–as soon as I turned 13 and was eligible–and I did my preliminary, won, and thought it was cool. Then the semifinals happened, and I won again, and made it to the finals. And won. I feel like from there on out, I was hooked on spoken word. From there, I slammed for a while and didn’t really love that too much because of the whole competition aspect of it. What I did love is the fact that people were interested enough that they gave me opportunities to perform without having to put a number, or score, to it and have to win something at the end. And that’s really how it happened.