photo by Estuardo Garcia

Known for her gritty yet sensitive tone, the award-winning Kansas City spoken word artist is a true-to-form storyteller

No poet will ever take the written word as a substitute for the spoken word; he knows that it is on the spoken word, and the spoken word only, that his art is founded.

Lascelles Abercrombie

2023 Charlotte Street Generative Performing Artist Award recipient Tiara Nicole’s path to spoken word began on her way to an anthropology class at Penn Valley Community College. As she passed through the student union, someone handed her a flier about a spoken word competition.

“I signed up for the event and ended up winning that particular event,” Nicole said. “I really didn’t know what it was before then, but I was hooked after one night. I said ‘wow,’ I think I can do this. And that sparked a career.”

A Kansas City native, Nicole was introduced to poetry by her 8th grade teacher, Joyce Evelyn Sims. “But it wasn’t until I was 18 or 19 that I learned there was a whole world of spoken word,” Nicole said.

With work based on lived experience, Nicole has been a fixture on the stage at Urban Literation: ULIT 101 and at Last Poets Standing, Monday nights at the Blue Room in the 2000s. Following a 10-year hiatus, she returned to the stage in 2019. Since then, she has competed as far east as Brooklyn, New York, and as far south as Dallas. She is a regular host of Arsyn Spit Fire Open Mic Nights online.

Nicole appeared at Women of the World Poetry Slam in April 2021. She is a member of The Regulators slam team and, along with Mysterious, one half of the Poetic Ensemble Twin City. She received a Best Spoken Word Artist Award in the 2021 Kansas City People’s Choice Awards and a Sponsored Artist of the Year Award from Poetry for Personal Power. Other accomplishments include winning at Video Cypher Slam, For the Win Slam in March 2019 and WordPlay in November 2020.

One of Nicole’s major accomplishments was placing in a spoken word competition in Rockford, Illinois, in October 2022. “I had pulled a muscle in my hip and could barely walk to the stage. But once I got to the stage, I took second place,” she said. “That solidified that I belonged in the world of spoken word. For a long time, I didn’t know whether I did or not or if I had a place in this thing or not, but that moment really solidified it.”

Along the way, Nicole has enjoyed the respect and admiration of her peers. “I jumped at the chance to work with Tiara Nicole,” said Sheri Purpose Hall, a 2019 Charlotte Street Generative Performing Artist Fellow and CEO of Poetry for Personal Power. “To be able to perform alongside and publish work from a person that is so descriptive is fun and refreshing.

“Nicole is a true-to-form storyteller. She narrates life in such a way that you want to take the journey with her wherever she is going, no matter how harrowing the story,” Hall added. “She uses her whole body and especially her face to draw emotion through performance. She also does great work of making a setting or even nostalgia a character in her work, and she places you right in the environment as she speaks.”

Nicole, program director at Poetry for Personal Power, uses her carefully crafted spoken words as a tool to heal from past traumas. She wrote one of her books, “Bittersweet 16 Lost Soul… Naïve Girl,” after experiencing a sexual assault earlier in the year. Her artistry was the outlet that she chose to begin the healing process. Another book, “Tell My Son, Thank You,” is an anthology of past spoken word pieces that serves as a primer to her body of work. She is also an advocate for mental health as a survivor of the struggles that come with it.

A fearless presenter, Nicole is known for a gritty yet sensitive tone in her work. Her unmistakable delivery ranges from strong and forceful to delicate and tender. Combined with an exquisite yet street-savvy selection of words, she has a winning formula — as evidenced by this most recent award. Nicole is a master at utilizing a call-and-response approach in her delivery. When she speaks, each stanza and line evoke a response. The audience is at rapt attention, bursting into applause, shouts and cheers when she is finished.

In the months since receiving the Charlotte Street Award, Nicole has seen the impact on her career. “More people are interested in seeing me and hearing my work. My audience has grown. It’s exciting but also challenging. I ask myself how many layers of myself will I choose to peel back so people can know me.”

Looking toward the future, Nicole is releasing an upcoming book, “April Showers.” “It’s a collection of poems I wrote during the month of April. The topics are varied,” she said. She will continue to perform at open mics in Kansas City and nationwide.

A humble but honest and confident artist, Nicole is unshakeable in her belief that spoken word is the path for her. “I had many moments where I felt like I belonged. But when my nine-year-old son wrote me a poem for Mother’s Day and told me that he wanted to perform it like a poet, like me, all my questions were answered. That did it for me. I am here to stay. Second to my son being born, me chasing that dream has saved my life,” Nicole said.

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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