Phillip Shabazz


As a poet, author and teaching artist, Phillip Shabazz has built an outstanding, extensive and respected career. His work, which explores issues of community and culture in America, has been acclaimed by the media, critics and audiences across North Carolina. His writing expresses diverse points of view, from poems about family and friends challenged by the complexities of life to narratives that celebrate human possibilities.

Educators have called him “one of the most inspiring individuals in the arts.” In an effort to get students excited about creative writing, Shabazz encourages them to be empowered by their own words and expression. Teachers have commented, “His methods succeed in showing students how to use poetry as a tool of learning and communication. His teaching style is engaging, fun and direct.” The North Carolina Arts Council nominated him for the prestigious William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations, praising his contributions to arts education — as a blend of imagination, experience and upbeat sensitivity. As a writer and teacher, Shabazz has created a series of ongoing creative writing workshops over the past 15 years that he calls Living Words.


Freestyle and Visitation: poems, 1997, explored experiences of growing up in a housing project. The book received an excellent review in the Independent Weekly and numerous other newspapers. Freestyle also was performed at Centerfest as part of The Durham Arts Council’s annual festival. First presenting the book through public schools in the Triangle, Shabazz has taken Freestyle on tour across North and South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.

XYZoom: poems, 2004, examine personal memories, reverberations and impressions following the tragic events of 9/11. The book merges rhythmic and surrealistic spectacles of image, emotion and meaning, thus creating a multi-layered collage of lyric with narrative writing. Poems in the collection were published in several journals, including Obsidian II, the Louisville Review and The American Voice.

Shabazz’s most recent book, When the Grass Was Blue, 2007, a historical novel for young readers, explores the vital role that civil rights has played in contemporary American history. The book was used in languages arts and social studies courses throughout public schools in North Carolina. As part of his preparation to write When the Grass Was Blue, Shabazz spent time both in Louisville, Ky., and on the historic civil rights trail, researching a wide range of activists, leaders, historians, journalists and others.
Educators Praise When the Grass Was Blue

“A brilliant read for any child or adult.” Alexis Richardson, Hillside High School

“This book is a wonderful teaching tool.” Kathryn Birgel, Durham Academy

“A rich tapestry of experience.” Rebecca Bennett, Frank Porter Graham Elementary

“A must-read for teachers.” Kristin Bedell, A.L. Stanback Middle School

“Words can’t do much better than this.” Sarah J. Ritter, Cary Academy


In 1997, Shabazz became Duke University’s third artist-in-residence at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. While at Duke, Shabazz was a founding member of SpiritHouse, a community service organization. During his four-year residency, and with funding from the Siemens and Mary Duke Biddle Foundations, Shabazz organized both a student art collective and a twice-monthly speaker’s series that presented local and nationally known poets and writers. The series also included lectures by well-known educators from area universities and scholars from the National Humanities Center. The residency sought to blend the role of the arts in relation to vital social issues.

Shabazz conducts creative writing workshops across his home state of North Carolina and has taught at more than 300 schools, conferences and community centers. Currently, he is a poet-in-the-schools of North Carolina and is affiliated with the N.C. Arts Council. Prior to this, he was on the artist roster with the Durham Arts Council from 1994 to 1997. He also has been a visiting writer at many colleges and universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Elon, Winthrop and Warren Wilson, and the Writers’ Series at Appalachian State.

At present, Shabazz is working on several writing projects, including a book of poems for young readers; a book of essays and writing exercises, a practical primer for aspiring writers and poets on how they can develop a career through the literary arts; and a collage book for his Living Words series called Flames In The Fire. Its subject is the resilience and vulnerability of the poor and homeless. The book is inspired by Shabazz’s workshops with underserved students at local schools in the Triangle. As part of his work in the public schools, Shabazz also has organized Literacy Through Creative Writing, a literary and performing arts project aimed at closing the achievement gap and helping students read and write at their respective grade levels. The project was piloted in Durham Public Schools during the 2007- 08 school year.

Shabazz lives in Carrboro, N.C., and continues to reach approximately 12,000 people annually through his work as a poet, teacher and writer at the grassroots level and in the community at large.


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