Associate Professor, Department of African American Studies and Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance

Described by Cornel West as an artist who “…speaks his truth with a power we desperately need to hear,” Bryonn Bain is Brooklyn’s own hip hop theater innovator, spoken word poetry champion, prison activist, actor, author and educator.  His work has been featured at the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Public Theater (NYC), National Black Theatre (Harlem), New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Newark), the Actor’s Gang (Culver City), the Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC), Festival de Liege (Belgium), M1 Theater Festival (Singapore), Universidad de las Americas (Mexico) and Muteesa Royal University (Uganda), Rikers Island (New York), Marion Prison (Ohio), TEDX at Ironwood State Prison and Sing Sing Prison.  After teaching the first hip hop and spoken word workshop in the Dramatic Arts at Harvard University, Bain began consulting Columbia University’s Center for Justice and School of Law as a Visiting Scholar, and founded the prison education program offering college degrees from NYU to men incarcerated in upstate New York. Bain co-supervises the UCLA International Human Rights Law Clinic, and serves as faculty advisor for the Justice Work Group currently developing a Center for Justice at UCLA.  With pilot courses and programs at the California Institute for Women (CIW) and Barry J. Nidorf (BJN) Juvenile Hall, Bain is working with students, faculty and administrators across the university to develop UCLA’s Prison Education Program.  Celebrated as “poet laureate of the hip hop generation” by NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, Bryonn’s discussions aired weekly in over 20 million homes worldwide on BET’s award-winning talk show My Two Cents.  His interviews have included figures such as Mike Wallace, Tavis Smiley, LL Cool J, Tricia Rose, Dolores Huerta, Tim Robbins, Malik Yoba, Snoop Dogg, Nelson George and Harry Belafonte.  His work has won grants from the Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the Bertha Foundation. 

Wrongfully imprisoned during his second year at Harvard Law School, Bryonn successfully sued the NYPD, interviewed with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes,” and wrote the Village Voice cover story – “Walking While Black” – drawing the largest response in the history of the nation’s most widely-read progressive newspaper.  Bain’s grassroots arts organization, Blackout Arts Collective, developed the Lyrics on Lockdown Tour reaching prisons in 25 states and spawning university courses using poetry to build critical literacy in prisons nationwide.  His first book, The Prophet Returns, honors the legacy of Kahlil Gibran and the countless voices Bain has worked with behind bars nationwide for nearly three decades.  His second book, The Ugly Side of Beautiful: Rethinking Race and Prison in America, is published by Third World Press with a foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal and introduction by Lani Guinier.  His latest book, Fish & Bread/Pescado y Pan, is a bilingual, hip hop education children’s book published by Brown Girl’s Books.  Winning coveted titles as the 1999 Boston Grand Slam Champion and 2000 Nuyorican Grand Slam Poetry Champion, Bain ranked #1 in the nation and placed second in the world during the 2000 International Poetry Slam.  As Artist-in-Residence for the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, Bryonn founded the Lyrical Minded project — which has employed over 50 artists nationwide and brought hip hop, theater, spoken word poetry and film to public schools and detention centers in New York, San Francisco and Boston.   Bain has taught courses and professional development for teachers and artists at Brooklyn College, NYU, The New School, Long Island University, and Columbia University ranging from hip hop and spoken word poetry to critical perspectives on the prisons and policing.  Bryonn has lectured and performed at over 100 colleges and correctional facilities in the U.S., Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

His one-man multimedia production, Lyrics From Lockdown – executive produced by Harry Belafonte – tells the story of Bain’s wrongful imprisonment through hip hop theater, spoken word poetry, calypso and classical music, as well as lyrics and letters exchanged with fellow poet and friend, Nanon Williams.  Sentenced to Death Row at 17, and after more than 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, a federal judge finally ordered Nanon’s release in November 2010 — one year after the NYC premiere of Bain’s production at The Public Theater.  Developed in prisons, public schools and universities nationwide, the show has received extraordinary reviews, sold out on three continents with standing ovations in Europe, Asia and Africa.

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