Young Chicago poet gives voice to his community

CHICAGO -- Malcolm London is a poet in a part of Chicago that does not usually inspire verse. He lives in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.

"Can I say that a lot of times I was afraid I wouldn't make it home?" he asks. "Every day."

London started writing poems in 2009

Chicago poetry phenom takes the stage
to give a voice to his community.

"The idea that poetry is only for dead, old, white dudes who lived in the 1600s, right, but it's not," London says. "So for me, the stage was a place for me to have my voice heard."

More people are starting to listen. Nowadays, you can find him performing for national audiences, or emceeing a poetry competition called Louder Than a Bomb. It's the largest competition in the country.

"I would say Malcolm is one of the most important voices in Chicago," says Kevin Coval, the festival's founder and London's mentor. "He's seen the whole city for what it is. He's angry, but his anger is directed. It's righteous."

Coval says poetry lets London channel that anger "in positive directions."

London also takes his message to public school classrooms, trying to convince inner city kids they have a voice, too.

Malcolm London takes his message to public schools. CBS News
"I don't pretend to think poems will immediately change the world, but I do think when kids start writing those poems and people start listening to those things, then they'll actually know what is going on inside these kids' heads," London says.

For this 20-year-old poet, the pen may well be mightier than the sword.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.