Late last year, Luis Tubens, 35, was invited to stop by the Oak Park Public Library to work with some of the teenage patrons who fill the Lake Street facility's second floor during after-school hours.
"The teens were just kind of hanging around, but I was able to grab the attention of a few of them and work with them," said Tubens in a recent phone interview.
About a week later, he accepted an offer to become the library's first artist in residence.
In a recent statement, Middle School Services Librarian Jose Cruz said the new position is designed to encourage young people to participate in the arts.
"We hope to encourage tweens and teens at the library more deeply using a highly relatable and popular form of creative expression, Cruz said.
Tubens, who began his residency on Jan. 3, will receive a modest stipend and will meet with library staff and student patrons in grades 6 to 12 for roughly four hours a week for three months.
The first-of-its-kind position at the library comprises free writing workshops and a monthly spoken-word open mic session called "More Than a Mic: Your Voice Is Your Power." The first session will take place at the Main Library on Jan. 25, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Workshops for students in grades 6-12 will take place on Thursdays, from 5 to 7 p.m.
"In the workshops, we'll do basic writing exercises and usually will end each one by writing a classic poem," Tubens said. "In the first workshop I did as artist in residence, we did haikus. Next, we may move on to sonnets or limericks."
Tubens, who is a vocalist with the popular band ESSO Afro Jam Funkbeat, teaches poetry to elementary school students through a DePaul University program and has also worked with incarcerated young people inside of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, among numerous other positions.
Tubens, who lives in Chicago, said his own love affair with poetry evolved from his engagement with hip-hop, back in the 1980s and 1990s.
"I started off writing rhymes, but I knew early on I wasn't a rapper," Tubens said. "I didn't write that way. In my late teens and early 20s, I morphed my rhymes into a style of work that appeared more like poetry."
Nowadays, Tuben said, the medium is more important than ever.
"I think poetry is one of the most important mediums of expression — from back when it first appeared until today," he said. "Now, though, it may be more prominent than ever because it is one of the clearest, most direct ways of expressing what's going on in the world today. And anybody can do it. You don't need formal training to write poetry."