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From the White House: Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word


President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted students from American, Gallaudet, Georgetown, and Howard Universities in May 2009, allowing them to participate in an evening celebrating poetry, music, and the spoken word.

"We're here to celebrate the power of words," President Obama said. Words "help us to appreciate beauty and also understand pain; to inspire us to action, and to spur us on when we start to lose hope; to lift us up out of our daily existence—even if it's just for a few moments—and return us with hearts that are a little bit bigger and fuller than they were before."

Spoken word presentations included works by Chicago's Mayda del Valle, Hawaiian poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, "Brave New Voices" slam champion Joshua Bennett, and Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "In the Heights," among others.

"To be able to go in the White House and to represent my grandmother and my ancestors, it really means a lot," del Valle told the New York Times. "It's a generation of women that don't often get heard, you know, these old Puerto Rican women that no one ever really thinks about."

The eight performers who presented that evening also included actor James Earl Jones, writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, and jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding.

"Tonight's event is really just another way for us to open up the White House and once again make it the 'People's House,'" explained First Lady Michelle Obama during her opening remarks. "It is one thing for people to tell their stories in their own spaces and quite another for those stories to be welcomed in this space."

On October 2, 2009, President Obama declared October National Arts and Humanities Month.

"Throughout our Nation's history, the power of the arts and humanities to move people has built bridges and enriched lives, bringing individuals and communities together through the resonance of creative expression," President Obama stated. "It is the painter, the author, the musician, and the historian whose work inspires us to action, drives us to contemplation, stirs joy in our hearts, and calls upon us to consider our world anew."

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