James Navé grew up in Asheville, North Carolina long before it was cool.
Back when he was growing up, Asheville was just another small Southern city in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Navé’s family were not too different from many others who lived there. He says his mother’s family, (“although poor, were educated – my grandmother and mother were women of letters”) were his earliest influence regarding his love of language, but he had no idea then, how far his personal journey would take him from his humble origins.
By the time he was a teenager, he had begun to dream of the greater world, beyond the small community, “beyond the mountains,” he recalls.”I knew there was something more out there.”
He spent his twenties exploring different business opportunities along with the world outside his immediate horizons.
“I spent years biking and hitch hiking,” he says. “I traveled as much as I could.”
Early on he discovered he was a natural entrepreneur but it wasn’t until 1984, when he (and his two partners) founded Poetry Alive!, a theater company focused on performing poetry as theater for students, that his love of literature converged with his ability to promote, market and monetize his ideas.
By the time the 90’s rolled around, Navé was fully immersed in the burgeoning spoken word scene that was springing up in cities across the country. Eventually this movement would morph into Poetry Slams, but back then it was still Underground and hadn’t gone Mainstream.
The late Maggie Estep was one of the first of the new performance poets to break out, (got her start at ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side, my old stomping ground) along with Patricia Smith, then a journalist at the Boston Globe.
During the early 90’s The Taos Poetry Circus, founded by poets Anne MacNaughton and Peter Rabbit, was in its heyday, bringing heavy hitters from Allen Ginsburg to Quincy Troupe (with too many others to mention, in between) to participate in the Annual World Champion Heavyweight Poetry Bout, a definite precursor of the Slam.
Taos, during those memorable summers, was filled with poets, intellectuals, bohemian artists and their entourages, along with bona fide fans of poesy. From 1982 to 2003, MacNaughton and Rabbit tirelessly wrote grants, raised funds, rounded up poets, and produced the events that took place all over town, with the help of a small group of devoted volunteers.
Anne MacNaughton and Peter Rabbit did more than most to bring poetry into American pop culture, and to this day I believe they also did more than anybody to promote relevant tourism to Taos.
Navé and I first met through the Poetry Circus, when for a time we were both on the organization’s Board. Navé ran the Slam at the Poetry Circus, bringing poets working within the new genre, such as Patricia Smith and Saul Williams into the already diverse and impressive mix. Those inspiring, poetry filled summers could never be replicated in the same way, but Poetry in Taos has become a tradition, and Navé certainly remains at its forefront.
Taos has impacted his life in more ways than one; it is where he and Julia Cameron established and directed The Artist’s Way Creativity Camps, workshops based on Cameron’s Best Seller The Artist’s Way. Since then, Navé has facilitated hundreds of creativity workshops, seminars, salons, and retreats, designed to cultivate and nurture creativity. He returned to University quite late in the day for his M.F.A. in Poetry adding further gravitas to his life work.
These days, Navé is recognized as one of the pioneers of the performance poetry movement in the United States. He’s an internationally recognized poet, language arts educator, creativity consultant, and arts entrepreneur, and the founder of Imaginative Storm Productions.
“I’m dedicated to producing arts based events designed to offer writers and creatives rich learning environments where they can deepen, expand and thrive,” he explains.
He is currently the director of The Taos Poetry Festival and has been Director of Poetry at The Lake Eden Arts Festival in Asheville, NC since 1995. He divides his time between Brooklyn, Asheville and Taos with regular trips abroad, especially to Paris where he frequently hosts salons and workshops.
These pictures were taken earlier this week in town, as we chatted in the shade beside Moby Dickens, a local bookstore. Navé was getting ready for the Poetry Festival this weekend, but graciously agreed to meet me for a coffee and a lazy stroll around town.
For much more on James Navé please visit his site linked below and do visit taospoetry for the Festival schedule online. Events continue through Saturday.
For historical reference, I’ve also included a link to the late, great Taos Poetry Circus
Photographs of James Navé by Lynne Robinson