Taylor Mali is one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement. He is one of the few people in the world to have no job other than that of “poet.” Articulate, accessible, passionate, and downright funny, Mali studied drama in Oxford with members of The Royal Shakespeare Company and puts those skills of presentation to work in all his performances. He was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and was the “Armani-clad villain” of Paul Devlin’s 1997 documentary film SlamNation. His poem “What Teachers Make” has been viewed over 4 million times on YouTube and was quoted by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman in one of his commencement addresses.
Mali is a vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, having spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math and S.A.T. test preparation. He has performed and lectured for teachers all over the world; and in 2012 he reached his goal of creating one thousand new teachers through “poetry, persuasion, and perseverance.” Based on the poem that inspired a movement, his book of essays, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, is his passionate defense of teachers drawing on his own experiences, both in the classroom and as a traveling poet. Mali is a highly sought-after keynote speaker.
Born in New York City into a family whose members have lived there since the early 1600s, Taylor Mali is an unapologetic WASP, making him a rare entity in spoken word. He is the author of four books of poetry, Late Father and Other Poems (Quercus Review Press, 2018) Bouquet of Red Flags (Write Bloody Books, 2014), The Last Time As We Are (Write Bloody Books, 2009), and What Learning Leaves (Hanover, 2002); and four CDs of spoken word. His chapbook, The Whetting Stone, about the suicide death of his first wife, won the 2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize. The editors wrote, “Here, Mali’s familiar gifts for honesty and precision, so finely honed, have been turned inward, as he interrogates the limits of love, grief, guilt, and forgiveness. Brief as it is, this little book forges an epic journey of emotion, wisdom, and healing.”
Mali received a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in 2001 to develop “Teacher! Teacher!,” a one-man show about poetry, teaching, and math that won the jury prize for best solo performance at the 2001 U. S. Comedy Arts Festival. Formerly president of Poetry Slam Incorporated, the non-profit organization that oversees all poetry slams in North America, Taylor Mali makes his living entirely as a spoken-word and voiceover artist these days, traveling around the country performing and teaching workshops as well as doing occasional commercial voiceover work. He has narrated several books on tape, including “The Great Fire” (for which he won the Golden Earphones Award for children’s narration).