Gabriel Cortez is a nationally competing spoken word poet, writer, performer and UC Berkeley campus organizer. He represented the University of California, Berkeley at the 2010 and 2011 College Union Poetry Slam Invitational and Los Angeles in the 2008 Brave New Voices national teen poetry slam. He is the co-director of CalSLAM, UC Berkeley’s slam poetry team and ASUC-sponsored student organization. Gabriel is the son of a Panamanian mother and a dreamer from Chicago. He was born in Kansas and raised in Maryland, Virginia, and Los Angeles. He began writing in middle school and performing in high school. Entering his fourth year at UC Berkeley, he continues to struggle to find the right words. When not hunched over a writing pad or a computer screen, he enjoys runs in the wilderness, adopting abandoned furniture and teaching the little that he knows. He is the proud big brother of five and an avid learner of Spanish.
Natasha has been writing since elementary school, but her formal experience with poetry, specifically spoken word, began in her last couple years of high school. As a member of the speech and debate team, she competed with full poetic pieces in the category of Original Prose and Poetry, and placed 2nd and 9th in California in her junior and senior years respectively. She slammed for the first time at an event her senior year. She got a bad case of stage fright and forgot her lines in front of about 1000 people. Natasha didn’t plan on slamming again after that until she came to Berkeley and found CalSLAM. She found a home with the poets there and grew a lot as a writer. She’s had the honor of being on the CalSLAM team that competes at college nationals for the past two years. She was also a Student Teacher Poet for Poetry for the People in 2011. In 2010, she was on the Bay Team for the national youth competition, Brave New Voices. Currently, she is the Co-Director of CalSLAM. She is always trying to grow as a poet and learn from all the loving and talented writers around her. (The photo was taken on the way to a CalSLAM retreat. Ask her what the paper is from. It’s a cute CalSLAM story.)
Jade Cho is a 2nd year Ethnic Studies undergrad, a proud Oakland native, and a lover of all things CalSLAM. She started doing spoken word in Fall 2010 when she came to her first CalSLAM writing workshop with sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, in awe of all the poets - and probably would have been too intimidated to keep it up, had they not all been hella warm and encouraging. With that, she dived head first into poetry. She has been a member of the Youth Speaks San Francisco 2011 Brave New Voices slam team, is currently a Student Teacher Poet in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at Cal, and is a member of SPOKES, the Youth Speaks youth advisory board. Her favorite thing about spoken word and CalSLAM is its ability to inspire personal growth and build community.
Born and raised in Southern California, Sophie Needelman began manifesting her love for the arts and her community in the form of involvement with various San Diego dance companies. Working with groups such as Eveoke Dance Theater and Canyon Crest Academy’s Envision Dance Conservatory has inspired Sophie to combine her love of working with people and raising awareness through arts-related community engagement. In addition to her academic endeavors as a college student and her creative endeavors as a blossoming dancer/choreographer, Sophie has loved getting her feet wet in the world of slam poetry with CalSLAM. She has since been praised for bringing voice to the Queer community- and for bringing the Queer voice to the slam poetry forum. This has been Sophie’s highest reward as an artist, for she is honored to not only be a part of this community, but to represent it and advocate for it in all artistic spaces. Whether it is behind the mic, on a stage, in a dance studio, or in front of her computer screen, Sophie hopes to create- in every capacity she can.
Sanjana says: “Awesomely awkward doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt at my first CalSLAM workshop, but I’m trying to be kind.The first thing about CalSLAM everyone should know is learning to be kind to oneself. We all have different processes of navigating our identities and experiences and how they shape our interactions”. Sanjana first learned to embrace this through her work at the Gender Equity Resource Center. She decided to attend her first Monday workshop at CalSLAM, hoping that she would find a way to create stories that could create the kind of community she has with her family and friends back home on the east coast. When Sanjana writes now and tries to actively engage other community members to join CalSLAM at events, she tries to convey her continual sense of appreciation for the community she has found and her gratitude for their sense of kindness in accepting her as she is- and giving her the time and the space to navigate what that means. Her first time on stage at a CalSLAM open mic, Sanjana shared her hope to find the feeling of home and community she had been missing since arriving in Berkeley: “I didn’t think anyone could return the love I tried to send out that night, but every workshop, slam and performance after has reminded me how sincerely blessed I am to have found community here. I am always looking for ways to welcome new voices to be a part of this because there is so much love here to share”.
Terry Taplin is a 21st Century poet and arts-educator born and raised in Berkeley, California. He has taught Poetry and Creative Writing in High Schools across the Bay Area and beyond and represented the San Francisco Bay Area at several national Slam Poetry competitions at the youth collegiate and adult levels as a member of: The 2006 Bay Area Brave New Voices International Teen Poetry Slam championship team, as Youthspeaks Teen Poetry Slam co-champion alongside Isaac Miller in 2007, a member of the 2009 UC Berkeley Slam team ranked 3rd in the nation at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational and as a member of the 2010 San Francisco Slam Team and 2011 Berkeley Poetry Slam Team.
Sharing the stage with acts ranging from Mos Def to Massive Attack, his poetry has been heard in venues across the country from The San Francisco Opera House, Herbst Theater, and The Masonic Auditorium to the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, IL and the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His work has been featured in Poetry and Lit venues up and down the coast including Southern California’s LionLike Mindstate and the Hollywood Poetry Slam, and the Berkeley and Chico Poetry Slams in Northern California as well as the local literary series of New Poetry Mission in San Francisco and Lyrics and Dirges sponsored by Pegasus Books.
Taplin’s poetry represents the transcendental alchemy of an opulent verse. Ever a relentless championing of the Natural World, it is a Hammer raised in response to the Cult of Modernism and a reconciliation of Masculine and Feminine Forms. Shot through with a savage and unforgiving Beauty, Taplin’s work reaches for nothing less than the Music of the Spheres.