Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

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2010 interview with spoken word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai by Flor Sigaran


Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word artist who fights for cultural pride and survival through how she spits and how she lives.

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai has been featured in over 400 performances worldwide at venues including the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the House of Blues, the Apollo Theater, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and three seasons of the award-winning “Russell Simmons Presents HBO Def Poetry.” The author of Inside Outside Outside Inside (2004) and Thought Crimes (2005) and the CD Infinity Breaks (2006), Tsai has shared stages with Mos Def, KRS-One, Sonia Sanchez, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Amiri Baraka, and many more.

Kelly was a part of the original collective for Mango Tribe, an Asian Pacific Islander American women’s multidisciplinary spoken word theater troupe. She wrote, performed, and choreographed for Mango Tribe’s three mainstage productions (”Sisters in the Smoke” (2002), “The Creation Myth Project” (2004), and “Un/knowing Desire and Empire” (2006)), as well as Mango Tribe’s national tour from 2002-2006.

Kelly’s formative experiences as a community organizer, domestic violence counselor, oral historian, and youth worker deeply inform her commitment to the arts and entertainment as a means to forge the foundations for social justice, non-violence and the uplift of underrepresented people, ideas, and movements. She holds a double B.A. with high honors in Urban Planning and Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is proud alum of Michelle Obama’s Public Allies and also worked previously with the Posse Foundation Inc., founded by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Debbie Bial.

(Information from Zen-Yie Tsai’s official website: )