With two degrees in English Literature, it would probably be an understatement to say that Ismael Khatibu enjoys reading and writing. Khatibu, the organizer of the Piedmont Slam poetry group moved from New York about 15 years ago, where he had been in on the hip-hop scene. He said it didn’t take long to develop a writing style, but he has been able to polish his craft since starting out.

“It’s all rhythmic, so the rhythm is in you if you know how to make sense of the rhythm. So in my early stages of writing, I was pretty raw, but it was good stuff,” he said.

Khatibu received his undergraduate degree in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and later received a masters in African American Literature from North Carolina A&T.

Since breaking onto the poetry scene he has opened for several writers from the black arts movement like Sonia Sanchez. Khatibu said Sanchez and Chinua Achebe are two writers who have provided a guiding light for him during his career.

“We lost a lot of great black writers who were influential to me,” he said.

Piedmont Slam at one point was drawing crowds of between 75 and 100 people, performing at venues such as schools, Goodwill, and the Shepherds Center. The group has also partnered with the teen performing arts group Authoring Action. They are currently on hiatus but Khatibu said they are looking at doing a series of performances at Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts in 2015.

“We had to do some reorganization and kind of took a step back and about the past six months or so we haven’t had an event,” he said.

Khatibu said ultimately, poetry is about sending a message that the similarities between people are more important that the elements that set them apart.

“I get inspired by the human experience, because we’re all different in a lot of ways but we’re all similar in many ways and a lot of that I try to bring out in my work,” he said. “ Although I may be someone who’s black from New York City, there are a lot of comparisons and there are a lot of similarities between somebody that grew up in Ireland.” !